And then there was one. West Bromwich Albion’s 1-0 victory over Sheffield United on Saturday means their recent opponents are now the only team in the Premier League without a win this season. Burnley chalked up their maiden victory of 2020/21 against Crystal Palace last Monday, but both they and West Brom remain stuck in the bottom part of the table despite their recent successes. Even if Fulham pull off a surprising triumph over Leicester City on Monday, they too will remain in the final four.
There is still plenty of soccer to be played this season, and it would be unwise to predict any club’s demise after 10 rounds of action. Nevertheless, there has been little in the performances of the bottom four clubs to date that suggests any of them will drag themselves clear of the relegation battle this season. For all four, long and difficult campaigns await.
West Brom, Burnley, Fulham, and Sheffield United have now played 38 matches this season. They have failed to win 35 of them. Even more worryingly, only one of the three victories – Burnley’s win against Palace – came against a team that is not part of the quartet. That encapsulates their struggles in the first few months of the campaign.
All is not lost, though. At this stage last term, Bournemouth was ninth. They are now in the Championship. Southampton was in the bottom three but ended the season just two points outside the top half. Plenty can – and will – change before May, but for now, it looks as though the bottom four are in for a season of struggle.
‘Second season syndrome’ is a term used to describe a team that struggles to repeat their accomplishments in the campaign immediately the following promotion. To the surprise of many, Sheffield United finished ninth in 2019/20 and were at one stage pushing for Europe. That was a fantastic achievement for a team that had only just come up from the Championship.
Things have not gone to plan so far this season, though. Chris Wilder probably anticipated a tougher year, but a return of just one point from a possible 30 is hugely concerning. Sheffield United have been much easier to play against this time around, but their principal problem is scoring goals. The Blades have found the back of the net just four times in 10 games, and Saturday’s 1-0 defeat by West Brom was perhaps their most concerning result to date.
Indeed, West Brom has not exactly set the Premier League alight since securing promotion from the Championship. The Baggies finally got off to the mark at the weekend, and they showed potential in a 3-3 draw with Chelsea earlier in the season.
Even so, Slaven Bilic’s side has looked significantly short of top-flight quality at times, and it will be an uphill struggle for them to finish above the dreaded dotted line. No team has conceded more goals than West Brom, whose backline has already been breached on 18 occasions. Bilic has his work cut out in his second Premier League job.
Two years ago, Fulham returned to the Premier League with lofty expectations. The club spent heavily in the transfer window, bringing in an eclectic group of players to provide manager Slavisa Jokanovic with options all over the pitch. Yet the season quickly turned into a disaster for the Cottagers, who threw away the qualities that had won them promotion in the first place.
Scott Parker was in charge at the tail-end of that campaign, but he was only handed the reins after relegation became inevitable. Fulham was much more astute with their transfer dealings ahead of this season, and they probably have more individual quality than the three teams around them. However, the west Londoners have been far too open in many of their matches so far and, along with West Brom, have the joint-worst defensive record in the division.
Burnley usually prides themselves on their solidity, but Saturday’s 5-0 thrashing by Manchester City means they have conceded 17 goals in nine games. The fate of Sean Dyche’s side will not be determined by trips to the Etihad Stadium, though, and there was much for the long-serving manager to be pleased with his side’s prior victory over Crystal Palace.
Of the teams currently in and around the relegation zone, Burnley looks best equipped to pull clear. They have been here before and, unlike this Fulham team, have successfully navigated a path clear of the bottom three. Dyche is a tremendous manager who has built a side in his image, and the Clarets should pick up form now that they are getting key players back from injury. However, Bournemouth showed last term that even seemingly established top-flight teams can fall through the trapdoor.
DraftKings Sportsbook agree that the bottom four are in most danger of demotion. They have Fulham down as favorites at -335, although that could change if Parker’s side manages to beat Leicester on Monday. West Brom is listed at -200, with Burnley offered at odds of -106 and Sheffield United at -182.
Brighton & Hove Albion currently occupy 16th spot in the standings, having taken 10 points from their first 10 games. The Seagulls have scored 14 goals – the second-highest figure of teams in the bottom half – but can sometimes lack steel. If the relegation battle is to involve more than four teams, they are contenders to feature – DraftKings Sportsbook offer +900 on Brighton going down.
So too are Crystal Palace, who lost 2-0 to Newcastle United on Friday. Palace is often excessively conservative, while their overreliance on Wilfried Zaha is well established. DraftKings Sportsbook offers +450 on them succumbing to the drop. Newcastle could yet be dragged into the basement battle despite their win at Selhurst Park – they are available at +500.
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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