Yes. I know it’s early.
No. Literally nobody was asking for a look into the relegation battle just yet.
But hey, we support Newcastle United. And not many of us can deny that we love a somewhat hopeful, but also potentially incredibly bleak, look at what the end of the season has in store, right?
Exactly. So here we go.
It seems far too early to be using phrases like “Premier League safety is still in our hands” when there are so many games left to play in the season, but this year - almost like no other - the closeness between sides at the bottom of the league seems to have fast-tracked talk and fear of the drop. The resurgence of a Fulham side that had been written off by many, together with Newcastle’s monumental slump in form over the past 16 games, has laid the seeds for what will be a fascinating (and downright terrifying) journey towards May 25th.
But that day, when Newcastle take on Fulham in a potentially survival-defining game, is still some time away yet. There’s plenty of football to be played before then and if Dougie the “Newcastle Fan” is right, we’ll be safe and looking forward to battling it out for Europe this time next year!
"I can't see why we can't qualify for Europe next season."— BBC 5 Live Sport (@5liveSport) March 13, 2021
Is #NUFC's position in the table down to bad luck and an injury crisis?
This Magpies fan is feeling optimistic about life under Steve Bruce - if he commits to playing attacking football #BBC606 pic.twitter.com/xBIkg8yUum
This coming weekend’s set of fixtures are the last bit of action before the two-week international break, but at a time when the PL is usually cashing in on as many viewers as possible, there are only four games taking place. Newcastle travel to Brighton in what could be one of the most important games of the run-in, where three points for either team would be huge in their efforts for safety. In the other fixtures Aston Villa entertain Tottenham, West Ham host Arsenal, and fellow strugglers Fulham, meet Leeds at the Craven Cottage.
Brighton’s win over Southampton last weekend, together with Newcastle’s draw against Villa, meant that the Seagulls leap-frogged the Magpies back up to 16th by a point and a much superior goal difference. Fulham were unable to capitalise on Newcastle’s dropped points, after falling 3-0 to the Champions elect in Man City, whose march to the Premier League title has turned into somewhat of a canter. Nevertheless, a win for the Cottagers over Leeds on Friday would take them above Newcastle in the table, level on points with Brighton, and would add even more tension and pressure to the encounter at the Amex Stadium on Saturday.
In good news for both the Toon Army and Albion, is that a win for either would not only propel the respective club away from the relegation zone but also close the gap on Burnley and Southampton who have played a game more. Following the international break, both sides will still have a game in hand on Fulham which could prove vital as the season end draws near.
In relation to relegation, it is often said that the difference between staying up and going down, is beating those around you. The grid above evoked nostalgia for me, as it’s how I remember checking results and form in the newspaper, but to those of you who it is new, it represents just the bottom half teams and their fixtures/results against one another. The table below is made up purely of the fixtures above to show how successful bottom-half clubs have been against one another this season. Teams are sorted by PPG (Points Per Game) to take into account the different number of games played, with their current PL position in the far left column.
Unsurprisingly, all 10 teams in the bottom half pick up a higher amount of Points Per Game against sides who also occupy a spot in the bottom half of the table. West Brom and Crystal Palace have collected over 77% of their points this season against those in the bottom half, whereas Burnley and Fulham have the lowest percentage of such points at only 52% and 54% respectively. This could show that Burnley and Fulham are more likely to pick up results against the better sides but also that they’re unable to take advantage of struggling sides and collect as many points.
Fulham recently grabbed a remarkable win against Liverpool to at the time close the gap to Newcastle to just one point, but they have struggled to turn defensive solidity into collecting all three points against lower positioned sides. Fulham have drawn 8 (EIGHT) times in just 13 matches against sides in the bottom half. Of those games, Fulham have traveled to all five teams placed 15th and below, and drawn all 5 games. Grinding out results has been a mainstay of Parker’s resurgent Fulham who until this past weekend, had gone since September by not losing by more than one goal.
Interestingly, Newcastle have the smallest increase in PPG when comparing their form against the bottom teams to that of against the league as a whole. This is in line with what can only be described as typically up & down Newcastle results; including a league double over Everton, a win at West Ham and draws against Tottenham and Liverpool but also being the only team to have traveled to Bramall Lane & not score against bottom side Sheffield Utd.
This news should bring hope to fans who are worried that the return of Wilson, Saint-Maximin, and Almiron after the international break will be too late and that the “winnable fixtures” of late will have passed us by. The schedule certainly takes a turn for the worse for the Toon Army with games against Tottenham, West Ham, Liverpool, Man City, Arsenal and Leicester taking place in a span of just 7 games. Make no mistake though, the final two fixtures of Sheffield Utd at home and Fulham away are winnable, and more than likely will need to be won for survival.
Although included in these fixtures, I’ll say now that I think Crystal Palace, Leeds and Wolves are safe. Since the Premier League became a 20 team league in the 95/96 season, the average number of points needed for safety is 38.12 pts and the average points held by 18th place when being relegated is 35.52pts. With Palace, Leeds and Wolves all already at 35+pts, with 10 games to go, only a Newcastle-esque drop in form would be enough for relegation now.
Burnley have 6 of their final 9 games against sides in the bottom half, which should be just the sets of fixtures needed for Sean Dyche’s side to once again do enough to stay up. Other than Newcastle, Southampton probably have the worst form in the league of late. After their 2-0 win against the Magpies back in early November, they briefly went top of the league, but it’s been a downward trajectory since then. But with five games against bottom-half opposition to go, at an average of 1.5pts per game, another 7.5pts will take them above the “safe” 40 point mark.
Coming Home Newcastle Team Views
I asked the guys behind the scenes if they had to decide as of right now, who will occupy the bottom spots and this is what they came up with;
16th) Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club
17th) Fulham Football Club
18th) Newcastle United Football Club
19th) West Bromwich Albion
20th) Sheffield United Football Club
They’re a fairly pessimistic bunch, with only 42% thinking we have enough to stay up. But with the bookmakers having Newcastle at 5/1 (+500) to win at Brighton, together with the incoming horrid fixtures, maybe they’re the realistic ones among us. All we know and can hope for for now, is a win tomorrow at Brighton which will do a world of wonders both for the team going forwards and for the fans struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel!
Who is the most likely to finish 18th and be relegated this season?
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