Clubs' fear of the drop makes great spectacle

Clubs' fear of the drop makes great spectacle

Barring a colossal slip-up, the English Premier League trophy looks destined for Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea are seven points ahead of second-placed Arsenal (before last night's Crystal Palace v Manchester City game) despite playing one match fewer.

The race to finish in the top four and claim a coveted spot in the Champions League, is also all but over, after Liverpool's 4-1 defeat at the hands of Arsenal and Tottenham's disappointing 0-0 draw with Burnley last weekend.

In contrast, a more intriguing battle is shaping up at the other end of the table, especially after Burnley's surprising draw against Spurs and Queens Park Rangers' resounding 4-1 win over West Brom.

The bottom six clubs are now separated by seven points, making this one of the tightest relegation dogfights in recent years.

In fact, these are the games which I would tune in to from now on, because each game will be like a cup final for these teams.

After all, it is estimated that each relegated club will earn around £40 million (S$80.6 million) less next season.

Key players will also flock to teams in the EPL, effectively dealing these sides a knockout blow.

Table-proppers Leicester City have a game in hand over their rivals, but the Foxes' woeful form - two wins in their last 10 games - should see them head straight back to the Championship.

Ironically, something which was decided before a ball was kicked will determine how the season will end for these relegation-threatened clubs - the fixtures calendar.

At this stage, it is better to engage their relegation-threatened rivals than the top teams.

The top sides are high in the table for a reason, and will be looking to consolidate their positions in the home stretch.

This is why I see QPR and Hull City following Leicester down into the second tier.

Hull have the worst run-in, with clashes against Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs and Manchester United to negotiate.

QPR, meanwhile, have to play Chelsea, Liverpool and City.

Burnley, on the other hand, have the kindest run-in, with Arsenal the only top-six team they will face.

All that being said, nothing can be taken for granted as the season comes to a close.

This time last season, Norwich were sitting comfortably in 14th place, seven points clear of the relegation zone. But a run of five defeats in their last six games - three of which were against teams in the top seven - saw the Canaries relegated.

From now on, every single point counts, so expect these six teams to play for their lives in each of their remaining matches.

stsports@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on April 7, 2015.
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