So… that’s the top dog and the leading pack taken care of - what about the stragglers?
The difficulty in predicting those for the drop is that at least one crucial element within this dynamic will likely change: the manager. Surveying the current bottom three at the time of writing we find West Ham United, Swansea City and Crystal Palace; two of whom have already changed their manager this season and Swansea did so last season, twice!
Younger readers may not be aware that this used to be a much debated subject. Many commentators would hold forth about the long-term damage the perceived quick-fix of letting one man-in-the-middle go when eleven or more were not performing on the pitch beneath him and the club’s governance, ownership or finances may be in chaos above. Not so much nowadays. The regular cull of managers at clubs within the relegation zone or just a little too close to it has become normalised and begins earlier every season.
Having said all this, it’s tough to try and pick this season’s three biggest losers.
My list follows below.
18 - AFC Bournemouth
19 - Crystal Palace
20 - Swansea City
I don’t see the bigger clubs in the mix. I think West Ham, Leicester City and Everton will have pulled away long before the spring. More surprisingly, after thinking about it, I couldn’t see any of the newly promoted clubs going down either. For Newcastle United, that may be less of a surprise but I’ve watched Brighton and Huddersfield Town this season and while I do expect Brighton to be put to the sword numerous times against better sides and Huddersfield to simply run out of steam, I don’t believe they will fall off enough to be caught.
Like newborn lambs, Huddersfield gambol through games delighting supporters and casual viewers alike. They have an exuberance that I used to see in Bournemouth. Brighton are certainly more solid but they are also one of the better balanced sides in lower half of the table. Put this down to Chris Hughton who had to pick up the pieces at Newcastle on two occasions with very little thanks for it.
Swansea City on the other hand have an already exhausted looking Paul Clement and sold Sigurðsson to Everton a week into the season. Of course things haven’t gone so well for their former best player so there’s always a chance that the incoming Everton manager will loan him back to them, but I doubt it.
Crystal Palace are the best of the three teams on my list and I can see them rallying. But unlike the other two, the best players at Palace know that they won’t end up in the Championship - which takes the edge off. Bournemouth will fight all the way to the end but the ugly truth is they have no more surprises this year. And this season’s promoted teams have more energy.
Some may my list a little eccentric. The good thing about football is we’ll find out just how eccentric soon enough.