The English Premier League is the richest competition in world football. Although the English Premier League draws more viewers, offers more excitement, and generates more revenue than the Spanish League, it may claim to be of higher quality. That’s why staying in the competition is so vital for all twenty teams that compete in the league every season. Unfortunately for three of those teams, there are only seventeen safe spaces. At the end of the season, the bottom three go down, and those teams have to cope with the logistical and financial consequences of relegation.
As the 2021–2022 Premier League season rapidly approaches its end, we already know who two of those teams will be. The first, to the shock of nobody, is Norwich City. Their relegation was confirmed after yet another feeble loss in a season full of them, this time to Aston Villa. A board that appears happy for its team to enter the Premier League but doesn’t want to make the necessary investments to ensure they stay there has once again let down Norwich City fans. Norwich bounce between the Premier League and the Championship more than any other team in the country, yet they never seems to learn anything from being relegated. The worst thing about their relegation is that they’ll probably be promoted back up from the Championship next term, taking up a place that could be held by a more ambitious club.
The second relegation space that’s already been accounted for has been taken by Watford. It might still be mathematically possible for Watford to stay up on goal difference if they win all of their remaining games and the teams above them score no further points, but realistically speaking, neither of those things will happen. The club’s internal post-relegation autopsy has already begun, and plans are being made for next season in the Championship. Watford is another club that never learns anything from going down. The Watford board’s scattergun approach to hiring and firing managers means there’s never any stability at Vicarage Road. The lack of coaching continuity was always likely to come back to haunt the club in the end. Somehow persuading 74-year-old Roy Hodgson to come out of retirement and replace Claudio Ranieri, becoming Watford’s third coach of the season, did nothing to change the fate of the Hornets, and they now have a major rebuilding task on their hands.
With Norwich and Watford gone, there’s only one space left open and, realistically, only three teams that might fill it. The teams battling to avoid that fate are Burnley, Everton, and Leeds United. By a long distance, the most surprising of those names is Everton. The last time the Toffees were relegated from the English Premier League was in 1951. To put that in context, George VI was still the King of England. Everton is a classic example of a club that’s “too big to be relegated” yet finds itself staring the drop in the face. This is the result of big spending coupled with bad planning by the Everton board. The Carlo Ancelotti experiment at Everton failed, and his big-money signing, James Rodriguez, couldn’t get away from Goodison Park fast enough after the coach escaped to Real Madrid. Everton then made the bizarre decision to replace Ancelotti with Rafa Benitez – a man hated by Everton fans not just for being a former Liverpool manager but also for having made disparaging comments about Everton in the past. The fans hated him, results were poor, and Benitez’s inevitable sacking came barely six months after he was appointed. Everybody except Everton’s chairmen Bill Kenwright and Farhad Moshiri saw that coming from the moment he was appointed.
With Benitez gone and Everton in danger, the club desperately needed to appoint someone with experience battling relegation. Instead, they appointed Frank Lampard, who’d never battled relegation as either a player or a manager. Lampard has endeared himself to fans at Goodison Park and says all the right things. Still, the reality is that the former Chelsea boss hasn’t been able to get any more out of the expensively-assembled Everton squad than Benitez did. His January star signing, Dele Alli, has spent most of his time on the bench. A recent win over Chelsea is cause for optimism, but Everton need at least three wins if they’re going to stay in the Premier League, and if they don’t get them, they’re likely to be done for.
Burnley once looked dead and buried. They’d won four games all season before they sacked long-serving manager Sean Dyche, and yet most people thought that dismissing Dyche was madness. Instead, his caretaker replacement, Michael Jackson, has galvanized the side. Three wins in four matches have taken Burnley out of the relegation zone and up to the dizzy heights of 16th in the table, but they’re only two points ahead of Everton and have played a game more. Burnley’s form is buoyant, but their fate still isn’t in their own hands. If Everton and Burnley were both to win all of their remaining games between now and the end of the season, Everton would finish ahead of Burnley, and there would be nothing that Burnley could do to prevent that. Whether finishing behind Everton would mean relegation for Burnley depends on what happens to Leeds United.
The story of Leeds United this season is very similar to the story of Burnley. The board decided that firing a manager who the fans adored was the best course of action when the team was underperforming at a crucial moment. Marcelo Bielsa is, sadly, no longer the head coach of Leeds United. American coach Jesse Marsch came in to replace him and turned the club’s form around, but it could still be too little, too late. Leeds have lost only once in their past five games, but they have the same amount of points after the same number of games played as Burnley. That means they’re just as vulnerable to Everton. They could win all of their remaining games and still go down, as their goal difference is inferior to Burnley’s. The grim reality for all three teams is that the “magic barrier” of forty points – traditionally seen as enough to keep a team clear of relegation – might not be enough this year. Whoever goes down is going to be very unfortunate – but that’s the way of the game.
We certainly wouldn’t want to bet on what happens next. Tradition tells us that Everton will find a way out. History tells us that Burnley always performs a great escape at the end of the season. The form tells us that Leeds has the momentum to survive. We wouldn’t know who to pick, and we don’t envy the casino networks and betting sites that have to figure out how to price their odds on the matter. All we can say is that if you’re planning to make a bet, you’d be best advised to check all of your chosen casino’s sister sites before putting your money down, as you’re likely to see drastic differences in odds because of the uncertainty. When the casino companies don’t know who to pick, you can be sure of excitement. The two-horse race to crown the winner of this year’s Premier League is exciting, but what’s happening at the other end of the table is every bit as enthralling.