The Relegation Battle

As we hurtle towards the end of what has been a thrilling season for fans, least of all the fact that Leicester still are sitting pretty atop the Premier League table.

If we look at the other end though, it is still all to play for in the fight for survival, currently there are only 12 points separating 14th placed Watford and 19th placed Newcastle United, however Watford and Swansea are looking safe.

That leaves Crystal Palace, Norwich City, Sunderland, Newcastle and Aston Villa all still trying to avoid relegation.

If we take Aston Villa out of the equation, they lie bottom of the league 12 points from safety, they are odds on favourites to go down.

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Aston Villa haven’t had much to celebrate this season.

However Newcastle are on 25 points and Sunderland 26, they are just two points away from the currently safe Norwich, however both the teams have a game in hand over the Canaries who have 28 points. It looks as though Crystal Palace who are on 33 with a game in hand over Swansea look safe and with Swansea on 36 they should be able to get to the magic 40 in their 7 remaining games.

All eyes go to the east now as Sunderland, Newcastle and Norwich fight to keep their Premier League status, all three sides have strong squads.

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Norwich City celebrate a much needed goal.

Norwich City

Current Position: 17th

Points: 28

Games Played: 31

Goals Scored: 32

Goals Conceded: 54

Remaining Games: Newcastle United (H), Crystal Palace (A), Sunderland (H), Arsenal (A), Manchester United (H), Watford (H), Everton (A)

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Sunderland

Current Position: 18th

Points: 26

Games Played: 30

Goals Scored: 36

Goals Conceded: 55

Remaining Games: West Bromwich Albion (H), Leicester City (H), Norwich City (A), Arsenal (H), Stoke City (A), Chelsea (H), Everton (H), Watford (A)

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Newcastle are having a tough year.

Current Position: 19th

Points: 25

Games Played: 30

Goals Scored: 29

Goals Conceded: 55

Remaining Games: Norwich City (A), Southampton (A), Swansea City (H), Manchester City (H), Liverpool (A), Crystal Palace (H), Aston Villa (A), Tottenham Hotspur (A)

There are some big games ahead some defining games, the matches that stand out are:

Norwich City v Newcastle United, 2nd April

Norwich City v Sunderland, 16th April

Aston Villa v Newcastle United, 7th May

And of course Survival Sunday the 15th May.

The season has been a long one for all three sides and the final few weeks aren’t going to be much easier, the pressure is on and it’s clear only one side will stay up.

The likelihood we will have some sort of clear picture by the final day of the season and with two teams facing two of the top four each and each team playing at least one game against another one of the bottom four it is all to play for heading into the final weeks.

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Sunderland Preview

Manager: Dick Advocaat
Stadium: Stadium of Light
Captain: Lee Cattermole
Top Scorer: Connor Wickham/ Jordi Gomez (6)

Sunderland a season that saw them head for relegation before a sterling fightback under Advocaat saw them find a way to stay in England’s top flight. Sunderland live to fight another day.

Sunderland had a fairly average start to the season although they failed to secure a win until 4th October, they only lost 1 match and that was a 1-0 defeat away at QPR. They had managed wonderful draws against both Manchester United and Tottenham setting them up rather nicely. The 3-1 win over Stoke was unfortunately not a sign of things to come for Poyet and the Black Cats as 14 days later they would suffer a 8-0 humbling at the hands of Southampton. This would be a should destroying result for any side they returned home the week after only to once again fail to score as Arsenal won 2-0. Sunderland did manage 2 more wins before Christmas defeating Crystal Palace 3-1 in early November, and a crucial win over Tyneside rivals Newcastle just before Christmas. They finished the year in 14th place and relatively safe but with only 3 wins under their belts.

Ecstasy for Sunderland as they beat Newcastle.

Ecstasy for Sunderland as they beat Newcastle.

After Christmas Poyet could only manage 1 more win before he was sacked mid-March and that was only a routine victory over strugglers Burnley. Prior to this rare win they had lost 3 games in a row and were looking in bad shape. Following the win over Burnley Poyet only survived a further 6 games. The final nail in the former Brighton bosses coffin was Aston Villa defeating Sunderland 4-0 at the Stadium of Light leading to Poyet’s departure 2 days later. Sunderland were now languishing in 17th place just above the drop zone. Dick Advocaat took over and would only lose 3 times with Sunderland before the season was over. In just his 2nd game in charge Sunderland once again defeated Newcastle to do the double over their local rivals which has become something of a regular occurrence.

Sunderland would see May as the month they recovered as they won their 1st two games exacting revenge over Southampton with a 2-1 win and also beating Everton before 2 draws against Arsenal and Leicester before a loss to Chelsea on the final day. It was not perfect but Sunderland had done what they set out to do and Advocaat had taken Sunderland to 16th place and they were safe for at least one more season. Sunderland are going to need one hell of a change in fortune and gameplan if they want to get higher than they did last season.

Connor Wickham was by far their best player last year and it is hard to see where the goals will come from now he has joined Crystal Palace for an extortionate £9 million. Jack Rodwell is a promising midfielder his time at Manchester City stunted his career after limited success at Everton but it seems the 24 year old is trying to now rebuild his career in the north east and he is a very good player, his passing game is an asset to any time he sees space and has the talent to exploit it. His work rate is impeccable and with players like M’Vila and Cattermole around him they form a very hard working midfield. Jack Rodwell is sure to be in Advocaat’s plans leading into this season. This could be a huge season for the 3 cap England midfielder.

Jack Rodwell is all smiles after scoring his first goal for Sunderland against Manchester United.

Jack Rodwell is all smiles after scoring his first goal for Sunderland against Manchester United.

Sunderland have gone on a recruitment drive as well as securing M’Vila on loan from Rubin Kazan they have closed the deal on 4 new players whilst losing 3. Former Tottenham man Younés Kaboul is a big signing he not only brings Premier League experience but a defensive game that was something that was greatly lacking in Sunderland’s armoury last season. They have also brought in Coates from Premier League rivals Liverpool another worthy addition to the side. Sunderland’s recruitment doesn’t see any big names but the new faces are more necessity than luxury.

Kaboul in action for former club Spurs.

Kaboul in action for former club Spurs.

Departures are fairly insignificant bar Wickham who leaves after 2 big seasons. It seems the striker got bored of the Sunderland circus and heads off to London. His goals will be missed. As will his searing pace and creativity a rare bright spark in the black clouds that gathered over the Stadium of Light last season.

IN: Younés Kaboul (Tottenham Hotspur, £3 million)
Jeremain Lens (Dynamo Kyiv (£8 million)
Sebastián Coates (Liverpool, £2 million)
Adam Matthews (Celtic, £2 million)

OUT: Connor Wickham (Crystal Palace, £9 million)
El Hadji-Ba (Charlton Athletic, £500,000)
Anthony Réveillére (Free Agents, Free)

Sunderland have recruited well and Dick Advocaat is a very clever manager he will have a trick or 2 up his sleeve but in my eyes survival is highly unlikely.

My Sunderland XI (4-1-3-2-1): 1 C.Pantilimon; 15 Y.Kaboul, 5 W.Brown 22 S.Coates 3 P.van Aanholt; 14 J.Gomez; 8 J.Rodwell 4 L.Cattermole (C), 21 Y.M’Vila; 17 J.Lens, 19 D.Graham; 18 J.Defoe

Bench: 25 V.Mannone 12 A.Matthews 16 J.O’Shea 7 S.Larsson 4 L.Bridcutt 23 E.Giaccherini 26 S.Fletcher

Last Season: 16th

Prediction: 20th (Relegated)

Southampton Preview

Manager: Ronald Koeman
Stadium: St Mary’s Stadium
Captain: José Fonte
Top Scorer: Graziano Pellé (16)

Southampton were expected to be in a relegation scrap last season following a mass exodus of players to the north west but Southampton refused to lie down and performed admirably to find themselves in European contention.

Southampton were a tough side to beat last season and started the season very strongly with home form serving the side well. They recorded an impressive 4-0 win over Newcastle and a 3-1 win away against West Ham in a run that saw them in 2nd place at the end of September having only lost 1 game to Liverpool on the opening day of the season. October saw Southampton’s biggest win of the season as they annihilated Sunderland 8-0, it showed just how dangerous Southampton could be and players such as Schneiderlin and Pellé demonstrating just what they could do given the ball and freedom to play.

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Southampton at Selhurst Park on December 26, 2014 in London, England.

A run of 4 defeats through November and December saw Southampton slip out of the top 4 the tough defeats to Manchester United and and Manchester City at St Mary’s were disheartening for fans and it looked as though the dream of European football could be about to turn. Southampton did turn things back in their favour though with notable victories over Arsenal and Manchester United as well as a well fought 1-1 draw with champions Chelsea. Southampton’s March and April form was patchy but Southampton kept just enough wins going their way as they secured European football partly thanks to a 6-1 obliteration of Aston Villa on the penultimate weekend finishing the season in 7th place.

After last season the club have blocks to build with, a squad full of talent and a strong academy set up with the under 21’s defeating Blackburn to win the under 21’s Premiership Cup after an amazing strike from forward Sam Gallagher. This season is a chance for Southampton to prove they can consistently be a top 6/7 team and regularly secure European football if they can achieve that then that in itself will be considered a victory and a satisfactory outcome to what looks to be a difficult season ahead.

Tadic had a wonderful season on the south coast his attacking ability coupled with pace made him a danger on a number of levels. The attacking midfielder gave defenders headaches with his ability on the ball and he provided an awful lot of chances throughout the course of the season if he continue in that sort of form Southampton will fancy their chances against even the best teams.

Tadic on the ball for Southampton against Millwall.

Tadic on the ball for Southampton against Millwall.

Southampton have brought in a few new faces, most notably perhaps is Cédric Soares from Sporting, the 23 year old is a very talented right back able to attack and defend. The Portuguese international will look to bolster options for Koeman at the back which had a settled look about it towards the table end of last season. Another big signing for the club is Juanmi the 22 year old from Spain has been a huge player for former club Malaga last season making 38 appearances and scoring 8 goals in the process for the La Liga side.

New signing Cédric Soares posing at St Mary's.

New signing Cédric Soares posing at St Mary’s.

A few well known faces have left for the north west once again poaching the south coast stars. England right back Nathaniel Clyne leaves for Anfield after Johnson left Liverpool following a couple of disappointing seasons for the former England number 1. Clyne will be a huge loss after a wonderful display of talent throughout the season he and Bertrand very strong for the club making a huge difference. Another huge loss is that of French midfielder Scehneiderlin who will join former teammate Luke Shaw at Old Trafford, Schneiderlin who has been a key part of that Saints midfield for the last few years leaves a huge hole in the heart of Southampton. He is a big loss to a team that is finding it increasingly hard to keep hold of their top stars as the team continue to improve. Boruc is also another big miss but with a lot of competition for the goalkeepers starting berth at St Mary’s with players like Forster, Davis and Gazzaniga all competing along with securing Stekelenburg on loan.

IN: Cédric Soares (Sporting CP, £4.7 million)
Juanmi (Malaga, Undisclosed)
Cuco Martina (FC Twente, Undisclosed)
Jordy Clasie (Feyernoord, Undisclosed)

OUT: Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool, £12.5 million)
Morgan Schneiderlin (Manchester United, Undisclosed)
Artur Boruc (Bournemouth, Free)
Cody Cropper (MK Dons, Free)
Jos Hooiveld (AIK, Free)
Dani Osvaldo (FC Porto, Free)
Jake Sinclair (Free Agents, Free)
Omar Rowe (Free Agents, Free)

Southampton have made some good additions to the squad but it looks as though the departures may have a much bigger impact on the squad. Europe could be a stretch too far but I still expect them to finish in the top half (just).

My Southampton XI (4-3-2-1): 44 F.Forster; 2 C.Soares 6 J.Fonte (C) 26 S.Caulker 21 R.Bertrand; 16 J.Ward-Prowse 12 V.Wanyama 11 D.Tadic; 10 S.Mané 9 J.Rodriguez; 19 G.Pellé

Bench: 1 K.Davis 33 M.Targett 15 C.Martina 8 S.Davis 4 J.Clasie 7 S.Long 20 Juanmi

Last Season: 7th
Prediction: 10th

Manchester City Preview

Manager: Manuel Pellegrini
Stadium: Etihad Stadium
Captain: Vincent Kompany
Top Scorer: Segio Agüero (32)

Ultimately Manchester City will view last year as a failure losing the title to Londoners Chelsea with barely a whimper as the trophy went to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea finished a clear 8 ahead of Manchester City in what was a very easy title race.

Manchester City’s record at home is wonderful having lost just twice at home in the league with 14 wins that is a record that most teams in Europe would die for including the Spanish giants of Real Madrid and Barcelona or the likes of German heavyweight Bayern Munich. Their attack was something to behold over the course of the season they scored 83 goals which is an outstanding total for any club. With strikers like Agüero, Bony and Jovetic in the team are simply terrific at doing a forwards job with their pace and shooting accuracy. Their 83 goals is 10 more than the nearest team which is Chelsea who only managed 73 goals over the course of the campaign.

Agüero celebrates a goal against Arsenal.

Agüero celebrates a goal against Arsenal.

Manchester City’s clinical ability was clear to see with their impressive 5-0 demolition of Newcastle on 21st February and an incredible 6-0 annihilation of QPR in early May they were no stranger to banging home goals that at times they had no right to score. The quality in the squad is scary to have that much money sat on the bench which included names like England midfielder Lampard, Bony and Navas. The Sky Blues have endured some tough times over the years but now they are a top team the fans will not settle for anything but the very best from their star studded, expensive squad. The squad that saw them rack up a 12 game unbeaten streak from 2nd November until the 18th January when Arsenal beat Manchester City 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium.

Silva, Toure and Navas are the undeniably superb creative players full of flair and energy with their attacking brilliance. The midfield at the Etihad Stadium is a blend of attacking geniuses and defensive organisers they are a well oiled machine that keep the blistering attackers connected to the able defence with players like Vincent Kompany and Kolarov who have been hugely important for their club. Manchester City had a wonderful few results last season but their humbling at the hands of Middlesborough in the FA Cup and Newcastle in the League Cup ensured that Pellegrini’s team would not be winning a trophy this season.

David Silva celebrating at the Emirates Stadium.

David Silva celebrating at the Emirates Stadium.

The key man for Manchester City was undoubtedly the goalkeeper Joe Hart who for a number of seasons has been key to the team’s success. Hart has a very good record in goal and the England goalkeeper made 36 of the 38 Premier League appearances last season an amazing feat in itself. To have the world’s best attackers Suarez, Messi and Neymar only put 3 goals past you in all seriousness is not bad. Yes Manchester City did concede the most goals out of the top 4 in the league but once again the goalkeeper has been huge if the defence was slightly shaper it is undoubtedly the weakest part of Pellegrini’s arsenal.

The transfer market a familiar place for Manchester City however they have only brought in 2 first team players. 2 very goof players of course with England internationals Raheem Sterling and Fabian Delph joining Manchester City. Sterling wants to win trophies and play in the Champions League that he will get at Manchester City but can he become a star at Manchester City I for one do not think so, he could of course end up as another starlet on the scrapheap like Scott Sinclair. Fabian Delph joins amidst him pledging his loyalty to former club Aston Villa. There are calls that Manchester City are just trying to boost their English quota. This is no surprise looking at their academy compared to the other big team Chelsea who have a wonderful academy. The only player to graduate from the Manchester City academy in recent years is of course Micah Richards who has left for Aston Villa as Delph heads north.

New signing Sterling on the ball for England.

New signing Sterling on the ball for England.mil

Manchester City have lost 9 players over the summer high profile names like Negredo who has been lacklustre in the Premier League but is nonetheless a very good finisher. Lampard finally ends up across the pond in New York. The aforementioned Sinclair heads to Aston Villa along with Richards to try and resurrect his career which stalled in the north west. Milner also leaves the Etihad to join Premier League rivals Liverpool in a deal that could be huge for the Anfield club.

IN: Raheem Sterling (Liverpool, £44 million)
Fabian Delph (Aston Villa, £8 million)

OUT: Micah Richards (Aston Villa, Free)
Scott Sinclair (Aston Villa, £3 million)
John Guidetti (Celta Vigo, Free)
Álvaro Negredo (Valencia, £22 million)
Frank Lampard (New York City, Free)
James Milner (Liverpool, Free)
Majita Natasic (Schalke 04, £8.3 million)
Dedryck Boyata (Celtic, £1.7 million)
Karim Rekik (Marseille, £3.9 million)

An already great and expensive team has been bolstered with impressive yet expensive acquisitions with their 2 English assets. They are by no means bargains but if their 2 new recruits can continue their development and Manchester City can continue to play good football then they can win the league but their competitors Arsenal and Chelsea look too strong.

My Manchester City XI (4-2-3-1): 1 J.Hart 5 P.Zabaleta 4 V.Kompany (C) 20 E.Mangala 11 A.Kolarov; 18 F.Delph 25 Fernandinho; 7 R.Sterling 42 Y.Touré 21 D.Silva; 16 S.Agüero

Bench: 13 W.Caballero 22 G.Clichy 26 M.Demichelis 6 Fernando 14 W.Bony 15 J.Navas 8 S.Nasri

Last Season: 2nd
Prediction: 3rd

Aston Villa Preview

Manager: Tim Sherwood
Stadium: Villa Park
Captain: TBA
Top Scorer: Christian Benteké (15)

Aston Villa really struggled last season with an awful start to the 2014/15 season seeing them slump to 17th place only three points clear of Hull City who were relegated to the Championship after losing to Manchester United on the final day of the season.

Aston Villa struggled to score goals throughout the season especially towards the start with Belgian pitman Benteké sidelined through injury, Aston Villa started a startling run from the 20th September until the 2nd November where they failed to score a goal they ended this run losing 2-1 to Tottenham. In that period they suffered defeats to QPR, Everton, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal conceding 13 goals in the process.

Benteke celebrates scoring a goal against Spurs.

Benteke celebrates scoring a goal against Spurs.

Aston Villa also suffered over the turn of the year as they went 12 Premier League games without a win picking up just three points between 13th December and 28th February a run that left them in the relegation zone and was a period which saw the fans finally lose patience with Lambert as he was sacked on 11th February and Tim Sherwood took over three days later.

Although Villa’s league form was far from what the fans were hoping for last August the club did somehow manage to reach the FA Cup Final at Wembley beating formidable opposition such as Leicester City, West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool as they marched to the final which they lost 4-0 to Arsenal. This marked some achievement by the management and may have helped Tim Sherwood keep his job over the summer.

Last season so many players impressed but inconsistently, Jack Grealish is a real one to watch for the future and Delph was instrumental for Aston Villa earning an England call-up. If Scott Sinclair can stay fit he could help Villa mount a challenge for European football.

The transfer window has season a flurry of changes at Villa Park and a host of stars leave Birmingham in search of trophies with Delph leaving for Manchester City and Given headed for Stoke they have lost undoubtedly two important senior players for the club. Benteké has also agreed a deal to join underachievers Liverpool after their dire year in front of goal. The Belgian forward’s deal is yet to be confirmed but is understood it is only subject to a medical.

Fabian Delph in action for England.

Fabian Delph in action for England.

The big name heading to Villa Park is former Manchester City and England defender Micah Richards who may be able to sure up a defence that shipped 57 goals last season in the Premier League alone. Sinclair’s loan also being made permanent could give Aston Villa that creative spark in attack that they lacked for much of last season.

Micah Richards shortly after signing for Fiorentina.

Micah Richards shortly after signing for Fiorentina.

IN: Mark Bunn (Free Agent, Free)
Idrissa Gueye (Lille, Undisclosed)
Micah Richards (Fiorentina, Free)
Scott Sinclair (Manchester City, Undisclosed)

OUT: Fabian Delph (Manchester City, £8 million)
Shay Given (Stoke City, Free)
Darren Bent (Free Agent, Free)
Andreas Weimann (Derby County, Undisclosed)
Enda Stevens (Free Agent, Free)
Matthew Lowton (Burnley, Undisclosed)
Yacouba Sylla (Rennes, Undisclosed)

My Aston Villa XI (4-3-3): 1 B.Guzan; 4 M.Richards 14 P.Senderos 6 C.Clark 2 N.Baker; 28 C.N’Zogbia 15 A.Westwood 40 J.Grealish ; 9 S.Sinclair 27 L.Kozak 10 G.Agbonlahor

Bench: 13 J.Steer 33 J. Amavi 5 J.Okore 21 A.Hutton 12 J.Cole TBC A.Tonev 37 C.Robinson

Last Season: 17th
Prediction: 16th