As the Premier League season approaches the festive period, Christmas time will turn to crunch time for those loitering in the lower regions of the league table.
For a number of those currently residing in and around the danger zone, the managerial merry-go-round is in motion and looks set to have a significant impact.
With Roy Hodgson now fully installed in the hot seat at Crystal Palace and David Moyes taking the reins at West Ham, the recent arrival of Alan Pardew as Tony Pulis’ replacement at West Bromwich Albion and Sam Allardyce’s return to the Premier League in place of Ronald Koeman at Everton looks set to add further spice to what is traditionally a fiery winter period in English football.
The Premier League is often renowned for a busy and bustling winter period of uncompromised action and high-level drama, and the congestion and competitiveness which runs from top to bottom of this season’s campaign looks set to provide enough fire to warm the coldest of winters – not least from those fighting for their Premier League status.
The congestion of the league standings makes it rather less clear which clubs may truly be in trouble, and which ones may just be able to think they are surely going to be safe. For example, just seven points currently separate 10th placed Brighton from West Ham in 18th.
The minimal statistical distinction between the top half and the relegation zone makes this a very open fight for survival, with the lion’s share of clubs still having to look over their shoulder. However, the recent rounds of Premier League fixtures have provided strong indications of which sides may truly be in trouble.
Moreover, whilst the points tally across the table are inconclusive up and down the league standings, perhaps the significant statistics to look to at beyond the obvious would be matches won. This begins to draw a clearer line over a select group of clubs struggling to get the wins under their belts which are a must in any sustained hope for survival.
West Bromwich Albion, West Ham United, Swansea City and Crystal Palace currently make up the bottom four, in that order. What also groups these four sides together is the fact that all have won only two of their 14 league games so far this season.
With three of those four having recently appointed new managers as mentioned, and indeed the future of Swansea manager Paul Clement appearing uncertain, it is hard to see any of these sides developing any real stability in the coming months and forging the momentum required to add some desperately needed wins to drive themselves clear of the relegation zone.
West Ham’s 4-0 hammering away to Everton on Wednesday was a hugely concerning sign for David Moyes’ side. With the opportunity to travel to an Everton side who themselves had been struggling, following on from the Toffees’ 4-1 battering at the hands of Southampton last weekend, this was a game where West Ham surely had to come good, and build on an encouraging Friday night draw at home to Leicester. The capitulation on Merseyside, however, will have the Hammers fearing the worst.
Alan Pardew, meanwhile, arrives at West Brom knowing he has a big job on his hands. The Baggies’ surrendering of a 2-0 lead to slip to a bitterly disappointing 2-2 draw at home on Tuesday highlighted their troubles, in a game which they surely had to take the three points from against a Newcastle side struggling for a run of form. Time is of the essence for Pardew in his efforts to recover the qualities which once made this West Brom side a force under Tony Pulis.
Swansea showed against Chelsea on Wednesday night that they are certainly up for the fight. Paul Clement’s men made it tough for Antonio Conte’s side, with only an opportunist header from Antonio Rudiger separating the sides in a 1-0 victory for the Blues. A 0-0 draw against Bournemouth last weekend also highlighted their refusal to go down without a fight, as the Swans brought an end to a five-game losing streak in the league. Clement’s side must now add goals to their new-found defensive robustness in order to start picking up the wins which they desperately need.
Crystal Palace appear to be on an upward curve since the arrival of Hodgson in place of the sacked Frank De Boer. Mamadou Sakho’s 92nd minute winner for the Eagles against fellow strugglers Stoke last weekend provided a much-needed shot in the arm. The following up of this result with a solid 0-0 draw away at Brighton provided further indications of steady progression in a side who were previously struggling in all departments.
However, with the South London side still rock bottom on just nine points, Hodgson’s men must find another gear – and quick – if they are to have any hope of an escape from the Premier League basement.