If Sunderland hadn't beaten Chelsea two weekends ago, we're not even having this conversation. They looked like a team poised to drop into the Championship quietly. At 26 points, they had little to play for. But two consecutive wins have bumped them to 32 points with a match in hand over the teams below them. Suddenly, Sunderland look like a lock to stay in the Premier League. Let's take a look at their remaining scenarios.
Goal Differential: -20
Matches Remaining: at Manchester United, West Bromwich Albion, Swansea
While the trip to Manchester United may be tough, closing the season with home matches against the Baggies and Swans looks like a gift from above for the Black Cats. It's not going to take much for them to survive, and they've got enough room in which that could happen.
More from our Sunderland blog
More from our Sunderland blog
They gain zero points (three losses): Sunderland would be relegated if everyone else lost out. Norwich would only need a points, Fulham would need two, and Cardiff would need a win to leap them. If they lose out, it's hard to see Sunderland staying up.
They gain one point (two losses, one draw): 33 points! Given their goal differential, Sunderland are better off than any of the teams below them. Norwich would need a win or two draws to be higher, Fulham would need a win, and Cardiff would need at least a win and a draw. If any of those happened, Sunderland would drop.
They gain two points (two draws, one loss): Inching ever-closer to safety. And realistically, this is a pretty likely outcome. It's easy to forget, given their two most recent wins, that Sunderland have been terrible this year. A loss to United and draws against West Brom and Swansea would be pretty understandable.
If this happened, they'd be on 34, and they'd need Norwich to get a win or more (ha!), Fulham to get a win and a draw, and Cardiff to win out. Realistically, the only threat once Sunderland reach 34 is Fulham with the win and the draw. That could happen. If it doesn't, 34 may actually be safe in the Premier League this year. Good news for Villa, to be certain.
They gain three points (one win, two losses OR three draws): Here they tie a losing-out Villa on points, but goal differential comes into play. If Sunderland take the three-draw route to 35, they top a 35-point Villa. If they go 1 win 2 draws, it may be up in the air.
But for the teams below, things are getting dicey now. Norwich would need four points (again, differential) which isn't happening. Fulham would need six (differential. Can I stop saying that?), and Cardiff would need the same. 35 points is almost assuredly safe for Sunderland.
They gain four points (one win, one draw, one loss): 36 points and probably safe. Norwich would need two wins (not happening, Fulham would need the same, and Cardiff could not catch them. Villa could get there with a draw and two smaller losses, or two+ points.
They gain five points (one win and two draws): 37 points. Hard to see them dropping at this point. Cardiff could not catch them. Fulham could, but the differential would mean they finish behind, and Norwich are not getting five points.
They gain six points (two wins and one loss): At this point, Sunderland are safe no matter what. Of the bottom three, only Norwich could catch them, and their goal differential would mean they'd still finish behind.
They gain seven points (two wins and one draw): Sunderland are safe.
They gain nine points (three wins): Sunderland are safe.
What is likely to happen: Sunderland seem likely to be safe. But that's all based on the idea that they can keep their recent run of form going. If they get beat at Old Trafford like Norwich did last weekend, that could deal a serious blow to their momentum, and then the results against WBA and Swansea are suddenly in doubt.
I expect Sunderland stay up, though. A win from one of their last two matches should be all it takes, and I imagine they'll get that.
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- Relegation watching: How do Norwich City stay up?
- Relegation poaching: Who should your team steal from Aston Villa?
- Relegation watching: Can Fulham survive the drop?
- Sugar we're going down swinging: Robert talks relegation on Across the Pond