We've "known" for a couple of weeks now that Aston Villa will be avoiding relegation this year. I put known in quotation marks because while it seems an intuitive certainty, mathematically the club are still in the thick of the relegation race. With seven matches to go, however, it seems all but certain that Villa will spend the 2014-15 season as part of the Premier League. More interesting, however, is that it will likely not take 40 points to get there.
I was prompted to look into this by reading that Paul Lambert said the very same thing. I wondered if it were true, so I decided to go ahead and look at the schedules for the clubs below Aston Villa on the table right now. Here is where we stand. Bear in mind that I've tried to take as optimistic of a view (from the each club's viewpoint, that is) as is possible. These predictions represent what I think is the upper possibility for the clubs.
Currently: 20th, 24 points
It's not the hardest run-out that one could imagine, but Fulham have dug themselves such a hole that they will be hard-pressed to reach safety. It seems nearly certain that the trips to Tottenham and Stoke will result in losses for the cottagers, and one would hope this weekend's match against Aston Villa would be the same. That leaves the club three chances to get points enough to survive. If they can scrounge something from the Norwich and Hull matches, the final-day battle against Crystal Palace could actually mean something, which would be a fascinating watch. That said, I think Fulham have two more wins and a draw left in them. Even if we're super optimistic and predict four wins and two draws (results in all of their last six matches? It's not happening), Fulham only end on 38 points.
Predicted points: 31
Currently: 19th, 25 points
Sunderland are the wild card in all of this. They've got more matches in hand than any club left on the table. Unfortunately for the denizens of the Stadium of Light, 1) those matches are pretty tough and 2) they will be dealing with some terrible fixture congestion for the rest of the season. They've definitely got a chance at taking six points in their last two matches though, as West Brom are beatable and Swansea should have nothing to play for by the time the last match of the season rolls around.
So the question becomes how many points can they get from the seven matches before that? All four road trips are likely losses, as is the visit from Everton. That leaves West Ham and Cardiff as the only other chances for Sunderland to pick up points. Let's again be optimistic and say they get results in both: a win and a draw. That leaves the club with three wins, a draw, and five losses to close the season.
Predicted points: 35
Currently: 18th, 26 points
If the bluebirds haven't secured safety by May, they very well may be done for. The four matches they have in April are all winnable, though it would be crazy to predict a sweep of those. Let's say two wins, one draw, and a loss? Then a trip to Newcastle seems a likely loss, and a match against a Chelsea side who may be fighting for the title on the last day. That's a loss too.
It doesn't look good for Wales' number two side with that schedule.
Predicted points: 33
Currently: 17th, 29 points
Matches Remaining: @Norwich, Tottenham, @Manchester City, West Ham, @Arsenal, @Sunderland, Stoke
If the Baggies could capitalize on matches in which they score three goals, they'd be safe by now. Consider this: in matches in which West Brom have scored three goals, they have won one, drawn two, and lost one. In general, I think you'd expect a win from a three-goal effort, and so Baggies have taken 5 points from 12. That's abysmal, and the latest effort -- allowing a 95th minute goal to Cardiff City -- has kept them squarely in the relegation fight.
Norwich are a half-decent team at home, Manchester City and Arsenal should both pummel Baggies, and a visit from Tottenham looks tough. One point from those four seems fair. Maybe two. Let's say two for the sake of being optimistic. That means they only have West Ham and Stoke from which to get more. And to be honest, that seems likely. So long as they don't do anything stupid, I could see Baggies emerging with wins in both.
Predicted points: 37
Currently: 16th, 31 points
Matches Remaining: @Cardiff, Aston Villa, @Everton, @West Ham, Manchester City, Liverpool, @Fulham
Just like Villa, a surprising 1-0 win against Chelsea may be all the Eagles needed to secure their safety. Given what we've seen thus far, it seems as if Palace only need five or six points to be truly safe, and they should be able to get them. Draw at Cardiff and West Ham, beat Villa (something they've already done) and the chances that the match against Fulham is all that important drop quickly.
But if any of that goes awry, they will have trouble recovering. A trip to Everton and consecutive visits from title-chasing Liverpool and City promise no points. Palace need at least one more win to feel confident, but I think they should be able to eke that out. Plus, I can't see them losing to Fulham on the last day. Drawing, perhaps. Losing, no.
Predicted points: 37
Currently: 15th, 32 points
Matches Remaining: West Brom, @Fulham, Liverpool, @Manchester United, @Chelsea, Arsenal
Norwich are my dark-horse to be relegated. At 32 points, they seem well above the fray, but they have a very good chance of going winless in their final four matches. That means that they've got to get something from West Brom and Fulham. Earlier, I predicted Fulham winning this match, but for the sake of being optimistic for a sorry Norwich squad, let's say a draw here. And a win at West Brom.
Chris Hughton's side is going to have a really tough go of it regardless of what happens in the next two matches. If they can win both, i think Norwich are safe. If they can get a win and a draw (the most likely scenario, I think) they will probably stay up. If they don't, the final four matches are going to be a grueling test for the Canaries, one that they will likely not survive.
Predicted points: 36
Currently: 14th, 33 points
Matches Remaining: Swansea, Arsenal, @Fulham, @Aston Villa, @Manchester United, Everton
Alright, I said I was trying to be optimistic from the view of each club. Arsenal have been wild this season, let's call that a win. Let's call the match against Swansea a draw, and say the same of Fulham and Villa. That means that the matches against United and Everton are effectively meaningless for the club.
And even if we're dour and only give them three more points, that's probably enough. But again: being optimistic, plus it seems likely that the Tigers have another win in them somewhere.
Predicted points: 39
Currently: 13th, 33 points
Matches Remaining: @Hull, Chelsea, @Newcastle, Villa, Southampton, @Sunderland
Surprisingly, their win over Norwich on Saturday was the first in ten matches for Swans. It might have been the win that made the end of their season bearable. It seems likely that they'll win one more before the season closes, and probably draw a couple, too. The specifics don't really matter here, as 1-2-3 for the rest of the season isn't crazy. Neither too optimistic nor too pessimistic. It leaves Swansea safe.
Predicted points: 38
Currently: 12th, 34 points
Matches Remaining: Fulham, @Crystal Palace, Southampton, @Swansea, Hull City, @Manchester City, @Tottenham
Successive 4-1 losses have plenty of fans worried. But to be worried at this point means ignoring the rest of the table entirely and assuming that Villa will lose every match on their way to the end of the season. That's unlikely. Seven matches left to play actually feel more like five, given the fact that season-ending trips to Manchester City and Tottenham are likely losses. Given what we've seen elsewhere, Villa then need two points from the next five matches. If they can't do that, we should all abandon the team and find better pursuits in life.
This weekend should be a win. That should be enough to do it. If not now, given they way they've played so up-and-down this season, I feel safe in saying Villa have one more win in them. I'm going to shy away from predicting individual matches because that always ends poorly, but 1-2-4 is the low end of what we should expect. And let's just use that as our prediction. They're capable of so much more, but at this point it doesn't really matter. Villa should be safe.
Predicted points: 39
If these predictions end up panning out at all, 40 points won't be needed for safety. Hell, 40 points will barely be needed to break into the top half of the table. That said, given gut-check predictions for this many teams, I had to have made a few mistakes. Let me know what you think in the comments! The upside of this all is the fact that it's hard to legitimately predict a scenario in which Villa spend next season in the Championship. Thank goodness for that.