Who Will Lose the Relegation Rat Race?
Eleven games into the Premiership season, and it seems any signs of relegation candidates are subtle at best. Normally by this time, almost a third of the way into the season, it would be apparent who is going to struggle to keep their place among the elite in tact.
The resurgent Tottenham Hotspur aside, no team is adrift at the bottom, so it really could be a guessing game for a number of months yet. Just four points separate Everton in 7th and West Brom in 19th, so only half a dozen clubs can afford to avoid looking over their shoulder.
Starting from the bottom, the aforementioned Spurs really shouldn't struggle to stay up. They had a terrible start to the season under Juande Ramos, but in Harry Redknapp they now have a manager that will get the best out of a side that promises so much. They'll finish in the top half.
West Brom, one feels, will go down. While some will salute their tenacity and desire to attack any team put in front of them, it could likely end up being their downfall. They've not got enough of a backbone to support their positive play, a point proved perfectly when they couldn't finish off ten-man Blackburn last weekend.
Bolton Wanderers are another side you have to fear for. Kevin Nolan, their midfield star, hasn't been up to much so far this season and Gary Megson isn't renowned for his tactical nous. Whether they go down or not depends on whether they make any decent January acquisitions, preferably grafters excelling in keeping teams up.
Wigan will be fine. Steve Bruce is no stranger to sitting in the bottom six all of a season, and with the livewire Amr Zaki up front and the hard-working Capello favourite Emile Heskey next to him they shouldn't struggle for the goals that will keep them up.
Roy Hodgson's Fulham achieved a minor miracle at the end of last season, and it is starting to look like they can do it again. They've got the right plucky attitude, and with a team of experienced heads like Mark Schwarzer and match-winning talents like Jimmy Bullard and Andy Johnson, they'll stay up. Just don't expect them to set the world alight.
Why isn't Roy Keane deemed to be under-achieving? He has spent an obscene amount of money upgrading his squad, only for Sunderland to be sitting 15th. He's splashed the cash but the Mackems are but a point from the relegation zone. Like Fulham, they are blessed with match-winners like Djibril Cisse and Kieran Richardson, so don't expect them to be sweating next May.
Newcastle have been incredibly inconsistent these last few seasons, but it's there fluctuating and sometimes rare good moments that keep them up. Michael Owen will be fit and filling in with his fair share of goals soon and in Obafemi Martins they can score at any given minute.
Blackburn aren't so hot on paper, and their performance on the pitch hasn't been overly impressive either. Signing a past-it Robbie Fowler seemed like a sign of desperation from new boss Paul Ince, but Paul Robinson in goal was a great signing and they've enough about them to prevent having to look down the table every week.
Stoke City. Punching well above their weight. I have to back them to go down. Don't let the fact they are 12th fool you, they are only two points off the drop zone, and if key players like Rory Delap get injured then Stoke will have very little about them. The set-pieces could dry up any time too. Stoke to go down, but kudos to their "play-our-way" attitude.
As for the others? West Ham shouldn't get into trouble, unless these reports of financial trouble aren't exaggerated and they have to sell off the spine of their team. Portsmouth are the only other team I can see possibly getting sucked into a relegation dogfight. Tony Adams is yet to show any sign of development (it's very early doors I know), and losing Joe Jordan was a huge blow, but they have the quality and will strive to keep it in January I'm sure.
The Prediction? At a real push, I would have to say West Brom, Bolton, and Stoke City. It's just too tight to call though.
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