This year’s Premier League title race has gotten more fun as the weeks have passed. Conversely, the relegation battle has been an incredible wreck to watch.
From the World Cup break on, it’s rivaled the race for Europe.
A recent champion, a mainstay, and one of the best-run clubs of the 2010s currently inhabit the bottom three. Just above them lie a bunch of fascinating teams eager to avoid the drop.
Taking a look at the bottom three is just wild. If it had been 2017, these three clubs could have all fought for a spot in European competitions. Thanks to a mixture of bad luck and poor management, they’re all headed for the Championship.
Above them is a hodgepodge of clubs that both make sense and don’t. There’s, of course, the usual relegation fodder that looks to keep their hooks on the Prem. A few teams that last season finished above or higher than the middle of the table.
Relegation battles are often the most thrilling, given the stakes at hand. With the Prem title race being only between two clubs all season, the relegation fight has been more exciting.
A few years ago, the three sides currently in the drop zone were teams on the come up. Everton, Leicester, and Southampton have all suffered a wild fall from grace.
In 2016, Leicester pulled off the greatest upset in all sports by winning the Prem. The seasons that followed that triumph saw the club remain a contender for Europe. However, bad luck coupled with one of the worst defenses the Prem has ever seen has sunk them.
Everton’s dreams of European conquest died just as they began, with the club flirting with relegation for a few years now. Less bad luck and more poor management have doomed Everton, and to be fair, a relegation may help the club long term.
The mid-2010s saw Southampton become a talent factory, with van Dijk and Mané becoming Prem legends after starting with the Saints. However, it may have been that selling off and lack of replacing these stars that have pushed the club to relegation.
All these clubs are cautionary tales in one way or another. There are mixtures of hubris and delusion that the Prem will smash at the slightest opportunity.
With access to football’s biggest TV contracts, clubs have both the means and excuses to go past what their club can do—signing Cenk Tosun for an inflated fee and pretending that he is a Premier League talent or throwing a contract at Danny Ward. Doing all this with the pretense that a club must spend and be overly ambitious is just a killer.
So many clubs overstep their bounds or start to believe in their own hype, which just sinks them. After hitting on so many prospects, Southampton thought that things could be easy for them and failed to replicate their signings. Brighton has essentially replaced the Saints as this hipster club that just finds a way to scoop up promising talents.
It is depressing to see these sides in the bottom three, as in an alternate universe, they could all be fighting for Europe. But that’s the curse of the Prem.
Above the valley of ashes are the clubs that are desperate to avoid the dooming grasp of relegation. It’s truly a who’s who, from a club that was playing in Europe to a newly promoted side that tried to sign everyone.
West Ham and Wolves have slightly pulled themselves out of their relegation mess, but it’s still embarrassing for them. Both clubs were seen as contenders for Europe at the start of the season, with the Hammers in the Europa Conference League. Neither club has been truly awful; instead, they have just been bland.
Leeds were the media darlings at one point with the real-life Ted Lasso as a coach, but like the show, it draws on and is overrated. They will probably escape relegation but are not in a good place. Nottingham tried to sign every player they could to be the only newly promoted side staring down the barrel of relegation.
None of the clubs from 17th to 12th have been objectively awful. They’re just mid, and in a season that has seen such a wild race to the bottom, you can’t be that. Every one of these teams found a way to fail, be it in or out of their control.
For the clubs that will avoid relegation, it must be a wake-up call. The Prem is a cruel mistress, and what worked in the past won’t work in the future. Otherwise, you can just become fodder for the rest of the league to beat on.
Barely escaping relegation will save clubs money but will stall a necessary retooling. The teams that will live to die another day must make sure to learn to avoid the drop.
Few leagues bring the excitement that the Preem does, and even fewer can rival the fun that this relegation scrap has been. From former heavyweights to newly promoted sides, there really has been something for everyone. As frightful as the drop can be, there must be some sort of pain before a revival can begin.
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