Analyzing the relegation battle: Who will drop?

Who knew that Sunderland-Cardiff could be one of the season's most important fixtures? - Stu Forster

With just under three weeks until the Premier League season closes, the relegation picture is awfully murky. Let us help you clear it up!

There are twenty days left in the 2013-14 Premier League season, and there are still nine teams below the traditional 40-point mark for safety. It is as crazy of a race to avoid relegation as I can remember, and it's absolutely confusing to boot. That said, I've spent a while parsing the scenarios and I've put together an initial look at what could happen before the season is over.

This is only an initial look, and be warned, there are a couple of assumptions at work here. The first is that 35 points will be the drop line. Get 36 and you're safe. That may, of course, shift as the season comes to a close, but for now it looks as if that's where safety is. The second assumption here is that I'm mostly ignoring goal differential. It could come into play a bit later on, but at this point it's far too complicated to work into our thinking. So without further ado, here's where we stand:

Sunderland - 34 played, 29 points

Assuming that 36 points is the mark, Sunderland have quite a bit of work left to do. That said, we could have effectively ruled them dead had they not had a shocking upset over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this weekend. With four matches left to play, there is almost no way Sunderland would have been able to save themselves from 26 points. From 29, though, it's a possibility.

Left to play: Cardiff, at Manchester United, West Bromwich Albion, Swansea

Will be safe if: They can win two and get another draw. Luckily for them, the math may actually work a bit in their favor, as they've got two matches left against other clubs in the relegation fight. It also doesn't hurt that they are playing three of their last four at home.

Will join the Championship if: They can't must seven points. Despite the troubles at Old Trafford, it's easy to see a trip to Manchester United resulting in a loss for the black cats. That means they've got to gain points from all three of their remaining matches. Slip up and get two draws and it's over.

Verdict: Lots of work to do, but possibly the easiest run-out of the remaining teams.

Fulham - 35 played, 30 points

Give Felix Magath credit. When the transfer window closed, Fulham were dead last with 19 points through 24 matches (.8 points per match). Since then, they've taken 11 from 11. That's not great, but it's a huge improvement over where Fulham were, and it's put them in place to possibly survive.

Left to play: Hull City, at Stoke City, Crystal Palace

Will be safe if: They can win their two remaining home matches. Stoke have been quite good at home this year, and a draw there will neither hurt nor help the Cottagers. It's hard to see them winning that match, so we have to focus on Hull and Palace. It won't be easy, but Hull really don't have much left to play for and Palace should be in the same place by the last day as well. If they can keep their lineup out of Tony Pulis' hands, they could have a comeback for the ages.

Will join the Championship if: They can't get two wins. Anything less than a win against Hull this weekend ratchets the pressure as high as it can go on Magath's side. And given the way that Fulham played against Tottenham over the weekend, it's hard to see them taking six points out of the last nine available.

Verdict: What a comeback it's been, but it's hard to see this one succeeding. Felix Magath gets points for effort, but ultimately his club spend next year toiling away in the Championship.

Cardiff City - 35 played, 30 points

Without a 51st-minute penalty against Stoke this weekend, Cardiff would need results in all three remaining matches. As it is, they've got to get two wins. After that, they can do whatever they like in the third match.

Left to play: at Sunderland, at Newcastle, Chelsea

Will be safe if: They can stomp on Sunderland's hopes with a win and then pick up one more from Newcastle and Chelsea. Chelsea have not fared well against the bottom of the table lately, but can you really see them losing at home again this season? Wins at Sunderland and Newcastle will do it.

Will join the Championship if: They can't beat Sunderland. I think we'll know after this weekend if Cardiff are out or not. There are 18 scenarios left for the Bluebirds if they can't get a win against the Black Cats, and only two of them see Cardiff getting 36 or more.

Verdict: Dropping. Anything but a win this weekend basically assures it.

Norwich City - 35 played, 32 points

Three weeks ago, I said that I thought Norwich would get relegated. They were 3/1 to do so at the time. They're now 2/9. I hope you took my advice and bet on that one.

Left to play: at Manchester United, at Chelsea, Arsenal

Will be safe if: Well from a points perspective, they just need a draw and a win. Compared to the other teams thus far, that's not too bad. But look at that schedule. If it happens, I most likely see it coming in the form of a draw this weekend followed by a shocking win against Arsenal on the last day of the season. What a way to bookend the Gunners season that would be. Open with a loss to Villa, close with a loss to Norwich.

Will join the Championship if: They don't get a point in their next two. They played pretty well against Liverpool, but it's hard to imagine this team pulling out of its nosedive with their run-in.

Verdict: I still think they're sunk. Get a point at United, though, and I'll be happy to reevaluate.

West Bromwich Albion - 33 played, 33 points

Ugh, so many scenarios. With five matches left (including one against Manchester City in a couple of hours) their picture is still murky. Let's assume a loss again City shall we?

Left to play: at Manchester City, West Ham United, at Arsenal, at Sunderland, Stoke City

Will be safe if: They can just get one more win to close out the season. The Stoke City match looks particularly ripe for that, as it should be for nothing at that point. But there's a very real chance that Baggies save themselves before with a match against West Ham this weekend. Remember that month or so when Sam Allardyce had West Ham on the rise? Yeah, that's over. Baggies should be able to snatch a win and save themselves.

Will join the Championship if: They play like they have when scoring three goals. You'd assume that three goals generally means three points. They've had five matches in which they've achieved that this year and gotten... oh my. Only six points. That includes three 3-3 draws and a delightful 4-3 loss to Aston Villa. It seems that on the days their offense shows up, the Baggies defense takes a rest. A couple of losses and only draws elsewhere could see the Baggies drop.

Verdict: They've got five matches to play and only need three points. Sad as it makes me, they're probably safe.

Aston Villa - 34 played, 35 points

Oh hey, I know this team.

Left to play: at Swansea, Hull City, at Manchester City, at Tottenham

Will be safe if: They can muster another point. A draw, from anywhere. Swansea's win over Newcastle this weekend means they've probably got nothing to play for. Same with Hull. A point there should be doable. And heck, given Villa's success against the top of the table, we can't rule out six points from City and Tottenham! (Kidding! Mostly.) And to be really honest, given goal differential, Villa very well could be safe if they were to lose out at this point.

Will join the Championship if: They lose out and everything goes to hell with goal differential.

Verdict: Probably safe, but get a point so Randy Lerner can sell the club.

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Alright, that's a lot of moving parts. But what do you think? Are Villa in a good position right now? Who will be dropping? Let us know in the comments!

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