This Premier League season is proving to be one of the most open in years, everyone seems capable of beating everyone else and no team seems capable of putting a decent run of wins together. As a result, numerous league positions are separated by the smallest of margins meaning that teams are moving up and down more often than a fiddler’s elbow.
While all eyes are focussed on the higher end of the Premier League table, this year’s closely contested Premiership is beginning to look more intriguing the lower down you look. While realistically there are only three, maybe four teams who are capable of lifting the Premier League trophy in May, any three teams from ten could find themselves making a trip to Scunthorpe next season.
This fascinating relegation battle was summed up beautifully by the last two rounds of Premier League fixtures. In Week 21 Wolves, Birmingham and Fulham all lost and found themselves in the bottom three, a few days later they all record impressive wins, move out of the relegation zone and are replaced by West Ham, Wigan and Aston Villa. Since Week 10 there have been eight different teams who have spent some time in, or have been level on points with teams in the dreaded drop zone. Contrast this with last season when Portsmouth propped up the league for almost the entirety of the season and from around November onwards looked likely to be joined in the Championship by Hull and Burnley.
This season there is certainly truth in the saying; ‘No team is too good to go down’. Aston Villa, Liverpool, Everton and Birmingham occupied positions 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th respectively at the end of last season, yet currently find themselves four points or fewer off of bottom place. Just when you think that these teams are threatening to pull away from trouble with impressive wins a few bad results pulls them back into the relegation equation. It was only a few months ago that many were looking up in awe at West Brom in 5th place, now they lie in 16th just one point above 18th. On the flip side, Wigan and West Ham who both struggled at the start of the season and were in danger of being cast adrift now find themselves a couple of wins away from mid-table and have only suffered three defeats between them in their last six games. Every week I seem to change my mind about who will fill places 18, 19 and 20 when this season comes to an end. Just when I think that West Ham are looking okay they do something like lose 5-0, and surely Aston Villa can’t go down…can they? The only thing I am sure about this season is that I can never be sure and if I were a gambling man, I’d leave this one well alone.
The key to such an unpredictable Premier League basement battle is the wonderfully erratic form of its key players – brilliant for the neutral but a headache for the fans, inconsistency sure is entertaining. Take Wolves as an example; a few days after winning at Anfield they lose on New Years Day to 19th placed West Ham, then a few days after that they beat defending champions Chelsea. The form guide for Wolves’ last six games reads; lost, won, lost, won, lost, won – a marvellous microcosm of what is making this season great.