Six-Pointers and the Relegation Battle

WEST BROMWICH ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 12: The new manager of West Bromwich Albion Roy Hodgson looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United at The Hawthorns on February 12 2011 in West Bromwich England. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

A while ago, Kirsten was talking about "table watching." This is the way that people like us spend the days between matches, staring at the league standings, contemplating the different permutations of potential results, contriving a way that Aston Villa could end the season mid-table and Birmingham City could get relegated. As we are entering the final third of the season, it has been suggested that forty points is a good milestone for preserving a team's Premiership status. Aston Villa are on thirty points at the moment, level with Everton and Birmingham City, although we've played one more game than Everton and two more than Birmingham. On top of that, our goal difference (which is a tiebreaker for teams level on points) is -15, which is significantly worse than Everton and Birmingham, and four goals worse than Blackpool's, one place below us. So you can see what I've been talking about, when I complain about the fragility of our defence.

As we are obviously in a relegation battle, we have to win games like Saturday's disappointing draw with Blackpool. Fixtures like that, against relegation rivals, are frequently referred to as "six-pointers," because it simultaneously gives your club three points while depriving a team near you in the standings a chance to enhance their position. So, below the jump, I'm going to profile the teams around us in the relegation battle, and estimate their chances of survival.

Everton (26 games played, 30 points): Everton are usually a top-six team, who are down here because they are massively underachieving and struggling to score goals. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, the club is in financial turmoil at the moment, and it's even been rumoured that they might go into administration, which would make relegation devastating. This means that they were unable to make the sort of moves in the transfer window that Villa did to improve their offensive firepower. On the other hand, Everton are a lot better on the defensive side of the ball than Aston Villa, with an excellent goalkeeper in Tim Howard, and versatile defensive players such as Phil Neville, Seamus Coleman, and Phil Jagielka. Leighton Baines is a pretty good player as well, which is a marked contrast from this summer, when Fabio Capello preferred Stephen Warnock as England's deputy left back.
Chances of relegation: Very small. Without an injury to one of their key players (Tim Howard, Mikel Arteta, Tim Cahill, etc.), they should be able to find enough goals to stay up.

Birmingham City (25 games played, 30 points): Speaking of teams that can't score. Birmingham City, if I can take a moment to be objective, are a quality defensive team. They have a well-earned reputation, especially at home, of conceding very little, and they have played less games than anyone else in danger of relegation. Also, they do have some offensive spark, with the addition of David Bentley and the emergence of ex-Villan Craig Gardner.
Chances of relegation: Just a little worse than Aston Villa, and I'm not just saying that because I'm a Villa supporter. Their defensive superiority is negated by the fact that they're pretty much playing to their peak, whereas Villa has the potential to be a lot better than they are at the moment.

Aston Villa (27 games played, 30 points): This is the definition of a disappointing season. We have pretty much never played anywhere near our potential, even in the win against Manchester City we could have been better (as exemplified by the fact that Darren Bent only got one touch of the ball.) Our vaunted offence has consistently underperformed, as our front four hasn't managed the consistency to all have a good game at the same time. And our defence, as I've said over and over, is an absolute liability. There is no situation under which I think Villa is safe from conceding a goal, even on long punts from the keeper, as we saw from the first goal in the game at Old Trafford. When we've kept clean sheets, such the wins over Manchester City and Everton earlier in the season, it's been down to luck rather than any defensive quality.
Chances of relegation: It very well could happen. People will say we're too good to go down, and to be honest I believe them, but people said that about Newcastle United two seasons ago. That year, Newcastle were arguably "better" than Sunderland and Hull City, but that didn't save them from the drop.

Blackpool (26 games played, 29 points): Ian Holloway's game plan seems to involve the acceptance that they will concede a lot of goals, so they play in an attacking style that allows them to score a lot as well. It's worked before for Wigan, so it's easy to believe that they can manage to stay up. It will be a real fight for them, especially since they revolve around one player who cannot get injured if they want to remain safe.
Chances of relegation: If Charlie Adam gets injured, they're going down. It's as simple as that. Even if he doesn't, there's a pretty good chance that they'll be there or thereabouts by the end of the season, considering how small their squad is.

West Bromwich Albion (26 games played, 27 points): I like Roy Hodgson, but he has never shown that he has the ability to come in and get a team going right away. With Fulham, which is the example you're going to want to use for Roy Hodgson, they didn't perform particularly well for the first few games of his tenure. Fulham was also starting with a more solid back line than Hodgson has inherited with West Brom, as they don't have a defensive player with the quality of a Brede Hangeland, or a goalkeeper as good as Mark Schwarzer. West Brom's best chance at survival depends on getting the best out of Graham Dorrans and Peter Odemwingie, and I don't know if Hodgson is the right man to do that.
Chances of relegation: If Roy is able to instantly instill the kind of tactical discipline and defensive solidity he was known for at Fulham, then they have a shot. Unfortunately, I don't think that's particularly likely. If any of the bottom three goes on a decent run, West Brom will go down.

Wigan Athletic (27 games played, 27 points): If Roberto Martinez could play with eleven attacking players, I think he'd consider it. It's been a miracle that they've managed to stay up for so long, but they've just been lucky that there are always three teams that are just slightly worse than they are.
Chances of relegation: If I had to pick one of the current bottom three to stay up, it would probably be Wigan. That doesn't mean they will, though.

West Ham United (27 games played, 25 points): For me, the biggest surprise of this whole season is that there have been six managerial changes this season, and Avram Grant still has his job. There is a really decent case to be made that Avram Grant has been measurably worse than all six.
Chances of relegation: I feel bad for West Ham, because they are legitimately a big club with good players (Scott Parker, for one), and they will be inheriting a huge new stadium in a couple years, a stadium that shouldn't have to see Championship football. Then I realize that the club is run by amoral scumbags and bleating idiots and I feel okay again.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (26 games played, 24 points): English pundits seem to really like Wolves for some reason. Maybe it's because Mick McCarthy is a loveable curmudgeon, maybe it's because they employ a lot of mediocre English players with names like Matty Jarvis (who is basically the David Eckstein of Premiership football, because every pundit loves him even though he's not very good.)
Chances of relegation: They've had a few upsets in them, especially at home. Sadly, I don't think they can upset their odds of going down.

If I had to pick three teams to be relegated at the end of the season, I think I'd go with West Bromwich Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers, and West Ham United, with Blackpool and Wigan Athletic just barely staying up. Share your best guess in the comments.

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