Assessing the Premier League relegation battle, club by club

Clive Mason

If Wigan Athletic get a result tonight, it'll mean that the entire bottom half of the league is in danger of relegation. We take a look at the runners in what appears to be an eight-horse race.

Wigan Athletic

Why they'll stay up

If there were no such thing as history, Wigan would certainly be the favourites to bite the dust. Unfortunately for the clubs above them, there is such a thing as history. It's been happening for quite a while, and in recent years it's involved Wigan going on a ludicrous end-of-season run to drag themselves out of the relegation places and into another year of safety. Their triumph over West Brom was highly ominous, and looked exactly like their other escapes have: a club absolutely determined to fight their way out of trouble.

Why they won't:

None of the teams above them look completely doomed. Sunderland have put up quite a fight since Paolo di Canio's appointment, while Newcastle have far more quality than any of the other teams, and Aston Villa appear to be pulling away. At long last, Wigan may have left it too late this year.

Verdict: If everybody else was playing like relegation candidates, Wigan would have a simple task, but since their rivals seem determined to put up a fierce fight, the Latics are probably the favourites to be playing in the Championship next year.

Newcastle United

Why they'll stay up

They have too much quality. When Newcastle were last relegated from the Premier League, we all marvelled at such a big club suffering the drop, but now they're a big club that also has an excellent squad. It would be the most talented team to be relegated in a very, very long time.

Why they won't

Of all the teams in the relegation battle, they and Norwich are the only ones on relegation form. If they don't pick themselves up and play as they have done in recent weeks, then it's almost impossible to see how they can survive. That's a big if, of course, but the omens aren't great for the Magpies.

Verdict: Another of the favourites to go down. They've been sucked in and shown little fight or quality in escaping the prospect of relegation. Unless they improve for the final push, they're doomed.

Norwich City

Why they'll stay up

Chris Hughton arrived into a club that probably looked favourites to go down out of the entire league, Reading aside, and he appeared to instill a solidity to his side that kept them getting involved in the scrap. Yet as the league has drawn to a close, that's all changed, and his side have been dragged in. Yet if he can return to the basics again, and keep his side doing what they do best, they should be OK.

Why they won't

If Norwich fail to defeat West Bromwich Albion in their next game, they'll likely go into the final day needing a result away against Manchester City. That's a bad position to be in, particularly since they're in poor form, while most of the teams around them are putting up much more of a fight. Add in a pretty significant lack of quality and the situation looks bleak.

Verdict: The last of the trio of favourites along with Newcastle and Wigan. Norwich have a bit of both of their problems, a lack of quality and form combining to place them in real danger, and if they don't improve, they're certainly in very serious trouble.

Sunderland

Why they'll stay up

Sunderland should have a side that's too good to go down, and since Paolo di Canio replaced Martin O'Neill as manager, they've shown enough steel and grit to keep their heads above water. They're not suddenly blowing everyone away, but they're doing enough.

Why they won't

A clash with fellow strugglers Southampton will be their next fixture, but on the last day they'll be playing Tottenham Hotspur, in a game that Spurs will almost certainly have to win. That bodes ill for Paolo di Canio's men, who are fighting bravely but not exactly storming up the league. In short, the Italian's appointment may have just been a game or two too late.

Verdict: They've pulled away slightly, and aren't in as big trouble as the three teams below them, but their game against Southampton is absolutely huge. If they fail to get a result there, they'll have a very hard final day ahead of them.

Aston Villa

Why they'll stay up

Aston Villa looked more doomed than anyone earlier in the year, but some fine form and the goals of Christian Benteke have allowed them to pull up the table. They're playing well and putting up a spirited effort, and they should only be in serious danger should Wigan get a result tonight.

Why they won't

They're over-reliant on Benteke, and should their Belgian striker fail them in the final two weeks (and Gabriel Agbonlahor not prove as good a replacement as he did in their last game) then they may find themselves all at sea. Their squad is young, inexperienced, and flimsy, and they have a very hard game against Chelsea coming up before facing what could be a do-or-die battle against Wigan on the final day. And we all know what Wigan are like at this stage of the season.

Verdict: They've done well to pull clear, but there's still a lot to do. Nobody would blame them for losing against Chelsea, but if they do, then suddenly they're right back in trouble.

Fulham

Why they'll stay up

Fulham have plenty of quality in the likes of Giorgios Karagounis, Dimitar Berbatov and Bryan Ruiz, and the rest of their team's not too shabby either. They play good stuff, haven't been close to the drop zone all year and are much better than most of the teams below them. So surely it couldn't happen...

Why they won't

Unfortunately, yes it could. Fulham are now level on points with Aston Villa, and could prove the fabled '40 points keeps you safe' received wisdom as being a big old lie. Their two remaining games are against Liverpool and Swansea - two sides with little to play for, but who could still be very dangerous to them. It's time to start getting nervous.

Verdict: Unlikely, but feasible. Fulham suddenly find themselves in a battle they weren't expecting to be in and hadn't been close to all year, and it all depends on how the squad can react.

Southampton

Why they'll stay up

Southampton had been half-involved in the battle at the bottom all year, but appeared to do enough to escape. Yet a Wigan victory tonight would leave them suddenly only two points clear with two to go. It would still be very much in their own hands however, with their two remaining games against fellow strugglers Sunderland and Stoke. They've improved since Mauricio Pocchettino took over, and should be able to continue that form to remain safe.

Why they won't

The fact they're playing their relegation rivals in the last two games could be something of a double-edged sword - if they don't turn up and lose, they've made things twice as bad for themselves. Southampton are in decent but not great form, and if they enter a dip, they could implode at the last minute.

Verdict: Probably safe, but they definitely need to win one of those last two matches, and probably condemn someone else to the drop in the process.

Stoke City

Why they'll stay up

They have the highest points total of all of the teams on this list with 41, and after looking in real trouble a few weeks ago, back-to-back wins seems to have put them out of danger. It'll only take a small effort to limp over the line now.

Why they won't

Tottenham aren't a great team to be facing in the next game, with Spurs desperate for victory to keep up their top four challenge, and a last-day battle against Southampton could be what it all comes down to. Until their last two games, Stoke were playing the worst out of anyone in the bottom half, and if that was just a positive blip, and they don't keep up that level of form, they could see themselves fall away at the last.

Verdict: More likely than it appears. Stoke have looked utterly clueless at times this season, and they have two very hard games to end the season on.

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