The Premier League season is drawing to a close, with no team having more than eight matches remaining. Chelsea have surely sealed the title already with an imperious run of form, but at the other end of the table, the race to cling on to Premier League survival is becoming more intense. Sunderland are doomed, but Middlesbrough, Swansea City and Hull City are ready to battle to avoid plunging into the Championship.
Many have already written off Middlesbrough. They lie six points from safety, but hold a game in hand over 17th-placed Hull. That deficit may look retrievable, but a look at Boro’s upcoming fixtures somewhat crushes their hope of survival: Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool await Steve Agnew’s side. These are the kind of matches that a relegation candidate expects to leave empty-handed, and yet the North East side are now in the position of needing to win at least one of those fixtures.
If Boro were to look forward to any of those four matches, it would be their upcoming home tie against a bizarrely fragile Arsenal. It has been another season of disappointment for Arsenal, culminating in a 3-0 implosion away to Crystal Palace. Palace themselves were wary of becoming embroiled in a relegation scrap, but Arsenal’s insipid display has served as a fillip in their quest for survival. This is evident in bet365 football betting, where the odds on Palace succumbing to relegation are now 20/1 as a reflection of their upturn in form. Palace sit six points above the dropzone, but will be looking upwards rather than over their shoulders now.
The most likely scenario is that it will be Hull and Swansea who will be scrambling to avoid filling that final relegation spot. With two points between them and six matches remaining for each side, it is difficult to predict who will prevail. Both clubs have benefited from new managers arriving with points to prove, with Marco Silva at Hull derided by pundits on his arrival and Paul Clement at Swansea looking to demonstrate that his sacking at Derby County was unjustified.
Hull were tipped by most at the start of the season to occupy a relegation spot, and they looked likely to fulfil these predictions under the tenure of Mike Phelan. Silva, therefore, deserves immense credit for turning their fortunes around. If Swansea are to arrest their slide, the performances of talisman Gylfi Sigurdsson will be crucial. Hull’s recent run of form, in addition to having more points on the board than Swansea, places them as the favourite to survive, but it is likely to go down to the wire.
Both sides are faced with a relatively kind run of fixtures to conclude their seasons, with each set to take on Sunderland in matches that will be earmarked as must-win. Sunderland have endured a torrid season and lie a surely insurmountable ten points below safety. Winless and scoreless in seven matches, the last time David Moyes cracked a genuine smile came after a shock 4-0 victory at Crystal Palace.
In all probability, it will be Sunderland, Middlesbrough and one of Hull or Swansea that will be plying their trade in the Championship next season. Hull and Swansea will be fiercely contesting for survival until the last ball is kicked, but whichever team is defeated can take some solace in the fact that they have put up a better fight than Sunderland.