“Big football” has to beware the slingshot of relegation

IT really is the wrong time for a team like Leeds United – indeed any team – to fall into a run of disastrous form, but after their second successive thumping at home, the club is rightfully fearing relegation. They’ve conceded 16 goals in four games and were beaten by Crystal Palace to the tune of 5-1 at Elland Road. Things couldn’t get much worse, but they did, losing 6-1 at home to Liverpool. Leeds have seven games remaining and three of them are against teams in a similar position.

In the past 30 years, there have been teams that win promotion only to struggle when they reach that level, teams that flirt with the drop but invariably pull clear, teams that like to think they can challenge for Europe, and the big six that jostle for position and try to claim a Champions League place. This season, three of the teams that can be considered pretty big are battling away to avoid being sucked into the relegation whirlpool: Everton, Leeds United and West Ham United. 

There’s not many people around who can remember the last time Everton went down (1951) even though they have pulled a rabbit out of the hat a couple of times to climb, Houdini-like, from the edge of the abyss. Nobody can seriously imagine Everton in the Championship, but not a lot needs to go wrong for them to fall into the bottom three.

Their current form is as bad as Chelsea’s, a club that must be grateful they accumulated some points before the wagon started to develop dodgy structural problems. If the season was to last another 20 games, Chelsea would surely find themselves in relegation trouble if their current form is an accurate barometer. As it is, their gang of coaches have, between them, cobbled together enough for them to sleep easier than the likes of Sean Dyche at Everton. They have won just twice in their last 10 games and only Southampton, Leicester City and Nottingham Forest have worse records in the same period. 

Forest, after improving in mid-season, have slumped and they haven’t won a single game in 10. Leicester City have won once but have earned one point in their last nine games. It is looking ominous for the 2015-16 Premier League champions. Southampton have lost their last three and haven’t won in six, their last victories against Leicester and fast-fading Chelsea.

West Ham United demonstrated their character in coming back from two-goal deficit against Premier leaders Arsenal, but they are an erratic side if ever there was one. The Hammers have lost one in five, but that was a 5-1 drubbing at home by Newcastle United. Their previous defeat was by 4-0 at Brighton. Although they have enjoyed a decent Conference League run that could still go further, West Ham would be pretty distraught if they lost their Premier status this season.

Of the bottom seven in the Premier, only two – West Ham United and Nottingham Forest – have not changed their managers. Everton discarded Frank Lampard in January and brought in Sean Dyche, Leeds United sacked Jesse Marsch and hired Javi Gracia, Leicester City replaced Brendan Rodgers with Dean Smith and Bournemouth decided Scott Parker wasn’t their man but Gary O’Neil was. As for Southampton, who currently must be favourites to go down, they’ve had three managers this season, Rubén Sellés is the man in the seat that is getting hotter by the week.

Going back to Leeds United, if they needed a reminder of the Premier League’s benefits, their recent financials provide the hard data. Their revenues were £ 189 million for 2021-22 of which £ 116 million was derived from broadcasting. This was their second season back in the top division, two years earlier, their income totalled £ 54 million of which £ 8.6 million came from TV. Relegation would be a big blow for a team that represents the fourth biggest city in the United Kingdom.

It is less likely these days that any elite club will be relegated, but surprises can happen. There was a time when giants did have the potential to be slain – Manchester United in 1974, Chelsea a year later, Tottenham in 1977, West Ham in 1978, Manchester City in 1983, to name but a few. If Leicester do finish in the bottom three, it will be just seven years after their historic league title win. This heroes to zeroes fall would not be the worst by any means. In 1938, Manchester City were relegated just 12 months after being champions, while Ipswich Town in 1964 were just two years on from their unexpected 1962 success. Everton in 1930 were also the top club two years before their demotion. More recently, the gap between Blackburn Rovers’ Premier League win in 1995 and their relegation in 1999 was four years. Derby County, champions in 1975, went down in 1980, while Aston Villa (1987) and Wolves (1965) both had a six-year period between triumph and disaster.

Teams that had a seven-year hitch after being league champions include Manchester United (1967-1974), Chelsea (1955-1962), Liverpool (1947-1954), West Bromwich Albion (1920-1927) and Sheffield Wednesday (1930-1937).

On the evidence of the recent results of Leeds United and Everton, if their form does not improve soon, they could easily become a casualty in the great Premier League survival stakes. It’s unthinkable for Everton, who have been ever-present in the Premier, but there has been a lot wrong with the club for quite some time and the blue loyalists are deeply frustrated. For someone, it is all going to end in tears.

Remaining fixtures

 EvertonLeeds UnitedWest Ham United
April 22Crystal Palace (A)Fulham (A) 
April 23  Bournemouth (A)
April 25 Leicester (H) 
April 26  Liverpool (H)
April 27Newcastle Utd (H)  
April 29  Crystal Palace (A)
April 30 Bournemouth (A) 
May 1Leicester City (A)  
May 3  Manchester C (A)
May 7 Manchester C (A)Manchester U (H)
May 8Brighton (A)  
May 13 Newcastle Utd (H)Brentford (A)
May 14Manchester C (H)  
May 20Wolves (A)West Ham (A)Leeds United (H)
May 28Bournemouth (H)Tottenham (H)Leicester C (A)

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