As six pointers go, Saturday at the London Stadium may have it all. West Ham United are the crisis club.
They have lost their last three matches 4-1 to Liverpool, 4-1 to Swansea, and then the 3-0 defeat to Burnley on March 10 where the club’s problems were laid bare by pitch invasions, rebellion against the owners and a team throwing it in as soon as matters turned against them.
Things at Southampton are scarcely much better, and the club have attempted one of the oldest tricks in the book by parachuting in Mark Hughes to attempt the time-honoured “new manager” bounce. The Saints have won one Premier League match in 2018, and that was in beating doomed West Brom in February.
It looks win or bust for the 17th and 18th placed teams, though those above them still need to be looking over their shoulders.
To conclude a season where so many clubs have competed with little but survival in mind as Manchester City sail to the title leaving the rest of the elite playing for place money, the battle against relegation will hopefully provide a dramatic crescendo to the 2017-18 season.
The contenders for the drop reach as high as 10th and 11th, where Bournemouth and Watford have 36 points, but a share of the points between them on Saturday would get them to a 37-point total that should be enough.
That leaves nine with a fully realistic chance of going down. Most of them have daunting fixtures lists to fulfil if they’re to avoid the Championship and having to live off parachute payments. From the bottom up, it’s time to assess the endangered.
West Brom – 20 points
All is lost for the club ten points shy of safety, for whom Alan Pardew’s attempt at the new manager bounce has been just as embarrassing as the purple-jacketed hip thrust with which he decorated the 2016 FA Cup final. Behind the scenes, things may be even worse with chief exec Mark Jenkins revealing this week the club must now borrow to pay players’ wages.
Verdict: Beyond hope.
Stoke City – 27 points
Paul Lambert has won one game since succeeding Mark Hughes, his first, and though his team have improved a tad in performance terms, firepower is an issue. Xherdan Shaqiri’s seven goals leads the list, while Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Mame Biram Diouf, neither of whom play as strikers, have five. There is also unrest with Ibrahim Afellay asked to stay away until the end of the season, having been pinpointed as a bad influence by Lambert.
Verdict: Forgetting how to win and score leaves them in dire trouble.
Southampton – 28 points
Waiting so late to sack Mauricio Pellegrino may prove disastrous. Like Stoke, a lack of goals is the problem. Charlie Austin has not played in 2018, yet is top scorer on six goals. “I don’t do relegation,” said Hughes in December, but stares down the barrel of becoming the third manager responsible for sending two clubs down in the same season – the other two being Billy McNeill (Aston Villa and Manchester City in 1986-7) and Ron Saunders (Birmingham and West Brom in 1985-6)
Verdict: Hughes will beef them up, but Saturday is vital. Arsenal, Chelsea and City are still to come.
West Ham – 30 points
David Moyes could not stop Sunderland getting relegated last season, and while he has a better squeak at survival a year on, he might look back on his time on Wearside, where he suggested he had not done enough “due diligence” before taking the job as one of relative calm. The London Stadium is a tinderbox waiting to go off. As with Southampton, Saturday is so vital.
Verdict: “We need everyone to be together,” said captain Mark Noble this week. Unity looks even more difficult than beating Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United, who lie in wait.
Crystal Palace – 30 points
Palace left themselves with little margin for error in losing their first seven matches. Roy Hodgson pulled off a fine revival act, and yet four straight losses hauled his team right back in. “We don’t get as many points when he’s not playing, and don’t score as many goals,” said Hodgson of Wilfried Zaha, putting it mildly. The last time Palace won a game without the Ivorian was a 3-2 win over Sunderland in September 2016.
Verdict: No Zaha, no party.
Huddersfield Town – 31 points
If anyone can save those below them, it could be Huddersfield. Great credit must be handed to their having a chance, considering the paucity of talent at a club run in the old-style way by a local businessman in Dean Hoyle giving manager David Wagner carte blanche. However, points are required from their next three matches, trips to Newcastle and Brighton and hosting Watford. Their final four opponents are Chelsea, Everton, Manchester City and Arsenal.
Verdict: They got recent wins by throwing off the shackles against Bournemouth and West Brom. Time to go for broke?
Swansea City – 31 points
Sacked by Sheffield Wednesday after two failures in the playoffs had been followed by a slide towards the base of the Championship, Carlos Carvalhal was few people’s idea of a saviour. And neither did Swansea look capable of revival, having been asset-stripped of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente, yet safety is in sight. Like all of their peers, tough fixtures await, but at least they have momentum.
Verdict: Carvalhal, the philosopher-poet needs to finish the job he has done so well so far.
Newcastle United – 32 points
At the start of the season, a member of the Toon Army would have prayed for safety and the exit of Mike Ashley. The latter is not happening, and Rafa Benitez’s future remains in a state of permanent flux, but with Ashley’s tight fist on the purse, the manager has done a fine job. Loan signings Martin Dubravka in goal, and Kenedy on the flanks were typically smart, effective January purchases.
Verdict: The next two matches, Huddersfield at home and a visit to Leicester, might be enough to get there.
Brighton & Hove Albion – 34 points
Chris Hughton has done a tremendous job, backed by some intelligent work in the transfer market. Pascal Gross as playmaker and Mat Ryan in goal have had excellent first seasons. Of all the promoted clubs, each of whom have a great chance of survival, Brighton have had the easiest ride, feeding off the calm of their manager.
Verdict: Four points from their next two home games, Leicester and Huddersfield, will probably be enough.