After a 2-0 loss against Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace on Saturday, Huddersfield Town were officially relegated from the Premier League. They matched the Derby County team from 2007/08 as the quickest team to drop down from the top flight, although the Rams still hold the record for the lowest points total. Fulham shortly followed with a 4-1 loss away from home to Watford on Tuesday.
However, there is still one spot left, and with five teams fighting for safety, everything is still on the line. Which teams are still in danger of playing in the Championship? We take a look at their tactics and their upcoming fixture list.
The Teams That Could Join Huddersfield Town and Fulham in Relegation
Cardiff City currently sit in 18th place having gained 28 points with 32 matches played and a goal difference of -33. As of late, they have picked up crucial points against West Ham United, Southampton and Bournemouth. However, with a failure to pick up the three points against Huddersfield back in January, along with their unfortunate loss against Chelsea on Saturday due to a refereeing controversy, Cardiff sit in a very vulnerable position.
Neil Warnock has been very flexible with his formations this season. He has experimented a lot with a back three and using wing-backs to help cover. However, his most used formations have been a 4-1-4-1 and a 4-4-1-1. Cardiff’s game plan for most of the season has been to try and keep possession in midfield and look for their target man up front, usually either Oumar Niasse or Kenneth Zohore. Out of possession, Cardiff will usually sit deep in two banks of five and try to counter. This is common amongst almost all the relegation candidates.
Cardiff’s run in looks daunting to say the least. Out of the six remaining fixtures, two of them are against top six sides, one fighting for the title and the other fighting for Champions League football. The remaining four fixtures include Crystal Palace and three other teams also fighting to stay up.
Burnley currently sit in 17th place having gained 33 points in 32 matches played and a goal difference of -22. They started the season quite poorly as it was clear to see that they did not have the depth to compete both in the Premier League and the Europa League qualification rounds. They started to pick up some form at the turn of the year, especially when manager Sean Dyche made the big call to drop Joe Hart for Tom Heaton. The change has made them much more secure defensively, as Heaton has only one less clean sheet in six fewer appearances. Big wins against Wolves and Tottenham recently have allowed them to be just shy of the relegation zone.
Dyche has stuck to a 4-4-2 this season, for the most part. His team is usually aggressive when out of possession and Dyche relies on his two forwards, Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood, to press the opposition’s defenders. This pressing has allowed them to have the most goals from open-play among all the clubs in the relegation battle.
Burnley’s next six fixtures will prove to be a difficult test. Playing Arsenal, who are fighting for a Champions League spot, on the last day will be a huge test, and they will have hoped to wrap up Premier League football for next season by then. Before that, they face Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea. They will most likely be aiming to pick up points against Bournemouth and Cardiff.
Southampton currently sit in 16th place having gained 33 points in 31 matches played and a goal difference of -15. Their season started quite poorly under Mark Hughes; however, after his sacking, they have improved tremendously. The club, under Ralph Hasenhüttl, have managed to pick up 24 points since he has been in charge. Hasenhüttl has had some big wins against Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Everton, which puts them ahead of Burnley on goal difference.
Not only have the results changed, but so has the play style. Often referred to as the ‘Alpine Klopp’ because of his high-intensity tactical style, Hasenhüttl has guided his team into pressing high and forcing the opposition to lose possession close to their goal or to force the opponent into making long and careless passes.
Southampton arguably have the easiest last few games, on paper. They only play one top six side and can look forward to Huddersfield at St. Mary’s on the last day, as they have nothing to play for. Watford will be a tough test though, as they are fighting Wolves for that seventh-place finish.
Brighton & Hove Albion
Brighton currently sit in 15thplace having gained 33 points in 31 matches played and a goal difference of -14. Their big win against Manchester United at the beginning of the season should have given them lots of momentum. Unfortunately, their next win happened two months later. They have had a few injuries this season, with Glenn Murray seemingly playing through problems, as well as Pascal Groß, their player of the season last year, missing games due to ankle problems. Mathew Ryan was also unavailable for a few matches due to being away at the AFC Asian Cup with Australia.
Chris Hughton’s side are excellently drilled in defence. Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk lead in most aerial duels won at the club, as well as Duffy being in seventh place for most aerial duels won in the Premier League. They, along with the two full-backs, stay compact while the two wingers track back. This makes it very hard for opposition teams to create gaps.
Brighton’s last two games of the season are against Arsenal and Manchester City, so they will be looking to pick up as many points as possible before then. Bournemouth away from home have only won 4 matches away from home this season, so Hughton’s side will be looking to pick up points from them, as well as Newcastle and Cardiff at the Amex.
Match to Watch
Matchweek 33 – Burnley v Cardiff City – with both teams so close to each other in the table, it could very well be a relegation decider.