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West Ham? Leeds? Who will survive the Premier League’s relegation dogfight?

Posted on March 07, 2023

We could be in store for one of the most dramatic relegation battles in Premier League history.

After a weekend in which the bottom half of the table got even tighter, there are now just six points separating last-placed Bournemouth from Crystal Palace in 12th. As things stand, no fewer than nine teams are involved in the fight to finish above the dreaded dotted line.

It was a surprisingly painful weekend for Bournemouth. Not even Gary O’Neil would have expected much from a trip to the Emirates Stadium, but the Cherries gave their manager and their supporters hope by storming into a 2-0 lead over Arsenal.

However, goals from Thomas Partey, Ben White and Reiss Nelson turned the game on its head. The winner came deep into second-half stoppage time, leaving Bournemouth’s players visibly devastated.

It was a fantastic effort from O’Neil’s side, but they are the favourites for relegation for good reason. With 51 goals conceded, they have the worst defensive record in the division by some distance. They are also giving up the most shots (16.9 per game) and taking the fewest (8.5 per match). Bournemouth have problems at both ends of the field.

Southampton are level on points with their fellow south coast side, but a superior goal difference means they are 19th. A 1-0 victory over Leicester City on Saturday means they have now won two of their three games under Ruben Selles, who has been handed the managerial reins until the end of the season.

The Saints have the joint-third-worst attacking record and the fourth-worst defensive record in the Premier League. Yet they have shown signs of tightening up under Selles, with clean sheets against Chelsea and Leicester - more than they managed in 22 games with either Ralph Hasenhuttl or Nathan Jones in the dugout.

Continuing in that regard would give them a fighting chance of survival, but Southampton also need to improve at St Mary’s: they are the only side in the top flight that have collected more points in away matches than at home.

Everton in 18th have struggled to put the ball in the back of the net throughout 2022/23. No team has scored fewer goals, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s ongoing fitness struggles have further blunted their attack.

In his six league games at the helm, Sean Dyche has already started four different players as the lone centre-forward, the latest of which was Demarai Gray in the 2-2 draw with Nottingham Forest on Sunday.

Leeds are outside the bottom three on goal difference alone. With just one win in their last 12 games, the Whites have struggled for form for some time now.

Under Jesse Marsch, Leeds played with aggression and intensity. They rank first in the league for tackles per game (23.2) and fouls per game (12.4), and joint-third for interceptions per game (10). But this all-action style ultimately worked to their detriment. Leeds struggled to create chances through possession, which is something new boss Javi Gracia will be keen to address.

West Ham United and Leicester have sufficiently strong squads to be in the top half of the table, yet neither has been able to pull clear of the relegation zone. David Moyes and Brendan Rodgers have both clung onto their jobs for now, but it would not be a huge surprise if either manager was sacked before the end of the campaign.

It is possible to argue that West Ham have been a little unfortunate. They rank ninth for expected goals difference per 90 and have regularly been let down by profligate finishing. West Ham sit eighth for total shots (12.8 per game) and 11th for efforts inside the penalty area (6.9 per game), but only 15th for goals scored (23).

If the Hammers were able to play every game at home, they would probably not be involved in the relegation battle. Moyes’ men have a pitiful record on the road, with only one win all season - and that was way back in August.

Unlike West Ham, Leicester have fared reasonably well in attack but have been far too open defensively. Only two teams have conceded more goals than the Foxes, who have conceded two or more in over half of their 25 encounters.

Their East Midlands rivals, Nottingham Forest, have made the City Ground a fortress in recent months, avoiding defeat in front of their own supporters in consecutive matches.

Yet they remain involved in the basement battle because of their inability to regularly pick up points on the road: Forest have the worst away record in the Premier League, with eight defeats in 12 and a -26 goal difference.

Above them, Wolves and Crystal Palace are level on 26 points - five clear of the drop zone. But the two teams are trending in opposite directions. Had the campaign started when Julen Lopetegui arrived at Molineux, Wolves would be seventh right now.

As for Palace, no team in the Premier League has a longer active winless streak. It is now nine fixtures without a victory for Patrick Vieira’s side, during which time they have scored only four times.

No team in the league has scored fewer goals from open play than Palace (nine), despite the presence in their side of talented flair players such as Ebere Eze, Wilfried Zaha and Michael Olise. Given how tight the bottom of the table is, 12th-placed Palace are very much in the relegation mix.