Is the Premier League Relegation Fight Already Over?

Nick MillerFeatured ColumnistApril 4, 2014

NORWICH, ENGLAND - MARCH 22:  Gus Poyet, manager of Sunderland, looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Sunderland at Carrow Road on March 22, 2014 in Norwich, England. (Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images)
Alex Broadway/Getty Images

The Premier League title race is shaping up to be one of the most thrilling in years.

Liverpool, currently at the top of the table, will be champions if they win all their remaining games—that is, unless Manchester City, with two fewer games played, do the same. The match between the two sides on April 13 is shaping up to be an absolute classic.

Plus Chelsea, despite a few recent struggles, are still in contention, and it would be foolish to rule out Jose Mourinho's side. Arsenal are also technically still in the hunt, although their priority now is to cling to fourth place, with Everton breathing down their necks.

In recent weeks, it looked like the scrap at the other end of the table would be equally thrilling, with most of the bottom half looking vulnerable to the drop. However, we may now be in a situation where, with eight games remaining for some of the sides involved, the relegation scrap might be all but over already.

The bottom three of Fulham, Sunderland and Cardiff are all in dreadful form, with each claiming just one victory in their last seven games.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 30:  Felix Magath, manager of Fulham looks dejected after the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Everton at Craven Cottage on March 30, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Felix Magath was brought in at Craven Cottage with a reputation from his time in Germany for getting quick results, but they haven't materialised so far, with the Cottagers securing just four points since he replaced Rene Meulensteen. Fulham, bottom of the table with just 24 points from 32 games, have looked doomed for some time.

Sunderland are just a point above Fulham and could point to the two games in hand they have on some of the teams around them, but the chances of them picking up points from those games looks slim, given their run-in.

Gus Poyet's side's next four games are against Tottenham, Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea, with a trip to Manchester United thrown in for good measure further along the line. Their abject 2-1 loss to West Ham on Monday night looked like a crucial defeat, one of their more manageable chances to take three points gone.

Gary Neville was scathing after that defeat, saying on Sky Sports:

On paper there’s no chance. You wouldn't say there is if you’re being harsh about it. ...

... They are basically going to have to surprise us at a level that I've not seen. Wigan, a few years ago when they went and beat Arsenal and United, were incredible. They went on a run at the end of the season and you thought ‘where’s that come from?’ It was absolutely incredible to watch.

Sunderland are going to have to do that. Are they capable looking at them tonight? No, but we've seen stranger things happen.

Third from bottom is Cardiff, who, as unlikely as it may have seemed a few weeks ago, have the best chance of survival of the teams in the relegation zone.

They are three points behind West Brom, but the Baggies have a game in hand and have developed a useful habit of picking up points against some of the Premier League's biggest teams, with that win at Manchester United early in the season, plus draws against Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool thrown in as well.

Cardiff's survival, of course, banks not only on their rivals dropping points, but also on them picking up enough to overhaul those above them—one of those things happening is likely, but both occurring is a little more fanciful.

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - MARCH 29:  Manager Ole Gunnar Solskaer of Cardiff City shakes hands with Manager Pepe Mel of West Brom during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Cardiff City at The Hawthorns on March 29, 2014 in We
Michael Regan/Getty Images

For a good portion of the season, it looked like Norwich were the team in trouble, given that their last four games are against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, meaning they would basically have to pick up enough points for survival by game 34.

Chris Hughton's side currently have 32 points, so given the form and fixture lists of some of the teams below them, one win from their next two games might actually be enough for them.

Even then, they might just about survive on the basis that there are three teams worse than them, rather than really "earning" their place in the Premier League themselves. Their encounter with West Brom on Saturday looks like one of the most crucial games of the season, not just for the teams involved, but for any number of teams around them.

There will be enough to keep our attention at the top of the Premier League in the closing weeks of the season, which is just as well, because the fight at the bottom could already be over.