The race for 17th

Every year, much is made of the race to land the coveted Barclay’s Premiership title. Every year the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal are all tipped to be in with a shout come May. The recent emergence of Manchester City as a money-fuelled footballing force and the recent resurgence of Liverpool under Kenny Dalglish, plus Tottenham Hotspur pushing for the top four consistently now, leaves us with plenty of exciting debate and discussion relating to the near 20-year old competition.

But perhaps even more fierce than the race for the League title is the grueling battle to just stay in the league altogether. The financial implications of dropping out of English football’s top flight are more costly today than ever, even with the recently introduced parachute payments given to clubs that drop into the Football League’s Championship.

This year, the race for 17th should be hotter than ever. Last season, just 8 points separated 10th placed Sunderland at 47 points from 18th placed Birmingham City at 39 points. In reality, there really isn’t a lot in it; a few dropped points here or there from Sunderland and a few extra points gained from Birmingham may have seen them do a switcheroo in the table. Sunderland may have finished in the top half, but that statistic looks less impressive considering how congested 10th to 18th looks in the final table of the 2010-11 season. Looking further towards the drop zone, only 4 points separated Blackburn in 15th from the bottom three (And on the final day to boot), and also only 7 points from Bolton in 14th and Stoke City in 13th and Newcastle in 12th. It was tight for much of the season, ultimately ending up with 5 of the bottom 6 clubs still having their fates undecided on the final day of the season.

In the forthcoming 2011/12 season, the race promises to be just as nail biting for the victims involved. Being a Norwich fan, as much as I’d like us to be challenging the upper echelons of the division without the means of a Playstation, the cold reality is that we’ll be struggling through much of the season along with our recently promoted Championship counterparts last season. This piece looks at how I think the bottom half of the Premiership table will look come the end of the season, from 15h downward.

15th: Wolves

They’ll struggle again, but McCarthy has proven for two seasons on the trot that Wolves are still fit to be seen in the League, especially last season with their impressive results against some of the top teams such as Man United and Chelsea. They’ve earned the right to keep playing amongst the elite thanks to that, and with the additions of Roger Johnson, Dorus De Vries and the permanent signing of Jamie O’Hara combined with their impressive fighting spirit, I think they’ll be fine.

16th: QPR

Three words: Adel Taraabt. Money. It’s these reasons why QPR will survive ahead of the competition next season. Even if Taraabt only stays until January, by then Warnock should have a reasonably sized war chest to play with in the January transfer window to add to the squad. Jay Bothroyd on a free transfer isn’t a bad coup, and if Keiron Dyer can stay largely injury free, chances are that like Norwich, Rangers will survive by the skin of their teeth amongst the fierce competition to stay in the league. And though he’s not to everyone’s taste, I can’t wait for Neil Warnock’s ranting and raving next season.

17th: Norwich City

Delia’s Barmy Army, Paul Lambert’s yellow and green gods will do it. Is it bias? Of course. But I do think we’ve got a legitimate claim to stay in the division ahead of the three teams you’ll see below in this article. There’s a lot to be said for the winning feeling, something Lambert’s troops have been accustomed now for two seasons on the bounce. Lambert has bought quickly and sensibly in the transfer market, giving a hungry young squad the necessary time to gel together as a group. Whilst it is a young squad with little collective Premiership experience, I think we’ve just, (and only just) enough in the tank to survive.

18th: Newcastle

One Newcastle supporter claimed Mike Ashley was on something of a suicide mission in his position as the Toon’s head honcho, and I think he’s right. Andy Carroll leaving wasn’t so much of a shock, but the failure to reinvest virtually any of the £35million windfall from that transfer into the playing squad, the departure of inspirational captain Kevin Nolan and the freezing out of battling midfield presence Joey Barton have really left the club reeling. I don’t think Alan Pardew is necessarily a bad manager, but I do think he’s really going to struggle with his current squad, one that on paper looks even worse than the squad that saw the club relegated two years ago. It’s looking bleak for the Magpies.

19th: Swansea

Sadly, I can’t see Swansea amounting to anything more than Blackpool’s successor. They’ll play some good football and Scott Sinclair will no doubt be a standout performer for them, but ultimately their poor defending will be the final death knell for them. They have a good young manager in Brendan Rodgers and some talented players and there won’t be many dull moments with them, but their frailty at the back should be their undoing.

20th: Blackburn

I think Blackburn will have some serious problems next season. The club are being ‘looked after’ by some clueless owners who don’t seem to have the slightest clue how to run a club. Sam Allardyce’s joke dismissal and the inept Steve Kean’s appointment have seen the club slide alarmingly down the table only for them to barely survive on the final day of last season. This season I’m not sure they’ll be so lucky, and I think things are looking very bleak for the one-time Premiership winners.

Whatever happens next season, here’s hoping it’s every bit as exciting as last term at both ends of the table. But while the big boys push for their annual trophy hunt, spare a thought for those of us less fortunate at the deep end of the Premier League pond. Here’s hoping the Canaries will still be swimming with the big fishes for longer than one season this time.

Which three sides do you fancy for relegation?

By Nick Sellers – Norwich City fan


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