Relegation Rundown will be a weekly chronicling of the teams currently fighting to maintain their Premiership status. The Relegation Authority fancies himself a bit of an expert (an authority, if you will) on the subject having always been enamored with the more entertaining end-of-season race – which of course has nothing to do with his beloved Arsenal’s continual absence from title contention.
As the calendar turns to the new year so too does our attention to the bottom of the table. The race to avoid relegation is either heavily anticipated or heavily shuddersome – depending on where you sit. There are some familiar faces in the mix as Wigan and QPR are back amongst the relegation battlers, while two of the three new boys, Reading and Southampton, also find themselves in the precarious position.
Queens Park Rangers, 15 Points
I can’t seem to figure out the problem at QPR. For a non “Sky 6” team, they have a ton of cash and have not been afraid to spend it since they arrived in the Premier League last season. Much of that cash has gone to big names that are past their prime, guys like Shawn Wright-Phillips, Djibril Cisse, Bobby Zamora, Andy Johnson, Ji-Sung Park, and Julio Cesar. That said, they have added a few young bodies as well with the likes of Esteban Granero, Junior Hoilett, and the recently acquired Loic Remy from Marseille. Unfortunately, these signings haven’t amounted to much for Rangers. They currently sit five points away from safety, which is a bit worrying at this point in the season. QPR hoped to turn the tide when they replaced Mark Hughes with Harry “Houdini” Redknapp, the man who miraculously saved a sinking Portsmouth in 2008, back in late November – and at this point he’s had enough time to start getting things turned around at QPR. There are signs QPR’s form may be taking an uptick. They’ve taken five points from their last three fixtures, a shocking 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge over Chelsea and a solid scoreless draw with Spurs at Loftus Road. They capped that off with a decent 1-1 draw at West Ham with new boy Loic Remy getting on the scoresheet in his debut. QPR supporters will be counting on Harry and Remy to guide them to safety, but they’ve left themselves a mountain of a climb with their dismal early season form.
Wigan Athletic, 19 Points
Wigan finds themselves in a familiar position at this point in the season: fighting to stave off relegation. Wigan always seem to be in a relegation fight until the end, yet somehow Manager Roberto Martinez finds a way to keep them up. This season Wigan seem to have good players, but they struggle to find consistency within the squad. Di Santo and Kone are not bad, and I really do like James McCarthy as a young, up-and-coming midfielder. The Latics are coming off a 3-2 home loss to Sunderland, a match in which they held an early 1-0 lead. The silver lining from this one, however, is January loanee Angelo Henriquez found the net in his first action with the club. Time will tell if Martinez is able to work his magic again this season, but if history is any indication, expect Wigan to be right back in this fight again in 2014.
Reading, 19 Points
It’s not really a surprise that Reading are in the drop zone this late in the season as plenty of pundits picked them to drop before it even kicked off. What is surprising, though, is that Reading has scored a decent amount of goals. So far this season they’ve bagged 26, in fact – mid-table form. So it should come as no surprise when I say they’ve let in a league leading 42. Their defense is absolutely, consistently horrific. They look completely unconcerned with marking anyone on the opposing team, and frankly they flat out look lost in the defensive third – a trait most evident in the 5-2 thrashing they received from Arsenal in December. If Reading can somehow find a way to shore up the D, they have decent strikers in Pogrebnyak and Le Fondre to put the ball in the back of the net and carry them to safety. Recently, Reading have been showing some life. They earned a thrilling 3-2 comeback win over West Brom and were able to keep that momentum going last weekend in a key six point victory against fellow-strugglers Newcastle United.
Aston Villa, 20 Points
Overall, Aston Villa have been my least favorite team to watch this season. They are absolutely wretched to the eye and sometimes, with the teams they field, I wonder if they are trying to get relegated. Paul Lambert is on about as hot of a seat as there is, and I would be shocked if he weren’t the next manager sacked this season. Villa has had to deal with injuries, but they still have a good amount of talent and should at least be playing attractive football. Their bright spot has easily been Christian Benteke. The young Belgian has chipped in with seven goals, including a beauty over the weekend in a 2-2 draw with West Brom. If Villa do indeed go down, I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up the next Demba Ba. Ba was a beast for West Ham before they were relegated and was then picked up at a very reasonable price by Newcastle. As for now Aston Villa will continue to fight to keep their head above water, but they are certainly prime candidates to end up in the nPower Championship next season.
Newcastle, 21 Points
Newcastle has been the disappointment of the Premier League this season. After last season’s impressive 5th place finish, the Toon were expected to be at or near the top of the table again this time around considering they brought back virtually their entire squad. Inconsistent play from last year’s stars and injuries have played a major role in their downfall, and now their best and most consistent player this season, Demba Ba, dons Chelsea Blue. Newcastle will need to replenish their talent pool in order to avoid the drop. Already in this transfer window they have added Ligue 1 players Yoan Gouffran, striker from Bordeaux (not to be confused with the overrated French attacking midfielder Yoann Gourcuff), and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa from Montpellier. Mbiwa is a Central Defender and a longtime Arsenal target. Unlike a few of the squads in the fight, Newcastle’s recent form has been, in a word, terrible. An embarrassing 2-0 loss in the FA Cup to Brighton Hove Albion kicked off the bad stretch and led up to an embarrassing 2-1 home loss to fellow Relegation Rundown-ians Reading. They’re technically “safe” for now, but it’s high time Newcastle kicked it into gear if they’re going to avoid a return to the Championship.