The EPL Battle of the Bottom - Relegation
by Vegas Sports Informer - 8/8/2011
One of my favorite aspects of international soccer is that the weak teams don’t continue to stay in the top-flight leagues year after year…they get relegated! Just this year Argentine soccer giants River Platte were relegated, setting off riots amongst their supporters.
This makes the battle at the bottom almost as intriguing as the fight at the top. Last year it came down to the final weekend of the Premier League; with Wolves and Wigan narrowly avoiding the drop zone. Birmingham City, Blackpool and West Ham weren’t as lucky, finishing in the Bottom 3, thereby getting sent down to the Championship Division.
I often wish we had the same relegation battles in American professional sports. The Houston Astros feel like trading Hunter Pence and tanking the rest of the year? …Send them down to AAA next year, let’s call up the Durham Bulls or Las Vegas 51’s. Minnesota Timberwolves or Cleveland Cavs feel like tanking so they can get a better draft pick?…sorry the Fort Wayne Mad Ants and Rio Grande Valley Vipers are coming up. Don’t even get me started on the NHL, where the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes should be relegated just on principle… It would definitely make the meaningless games at the end of the year exciting, and these lame duck owners (KC Royals) would be forced to actually spend money on their teams to keep them competitive. I know it’s a pipe dream of mine, as American sports owners or players would probably never go along with the idea.
Anyways, let’s introduce the 2011-12 EPL newcomers and other candidates for relegation:
Relegation odds -160
The Swans are going to be the first-ever Welsh team to compete in the Premier League. Wales’ second city will no doubt provide plenty of support to a side that was almost bankrupt nine years ago. Their attacking style of play should be similar to Blackpool’s wide open style, which won them plenty of fans along the way.
Last season Swansea often dominated home games, conceding only 11 goals, but away they were vulnerable, letting in 31 amid 11 defeats. Best case scenario: they win a few home games they shouldn’t, draw a few on the road, play solid defensively and finish out of the drop zone. More likely scenario: similar to Blackpool they should be a fun team to watch, easy to root for, but unfortunately just too overmatched to keep pace with the rigors of the Premier League.
Relegation odds -125
The Canaries are returning to the Premier League after a six-year absence. Paul Lambert’s side has actually won promotion two years in a row, climbing up from League One in 2009-10. While this club did have a good run of success in the Premier League before, finishing third in 1992-93, that was a long time ago, and the current roster is short of Premier League experience.
Lambert realizes it’s going to be a challenge to keep his club competitive, and I think they might be a little overmatched early in the campaign. On the positive side, Lambert emphasizes an attack-minded philosophy, ranking first with 1.8 goals per game in the Championship division. To sum up the Canaries, look for high-scoring games, but ultimately for the lack of experience to hurt in the long run.
Queens Park Rangers
Relegation odds +150
The Rangers dominated the Championship Division last year, losing only six times and amassing a goal differential of +39! This leads to plenty of optimism around the West London club, with the best odds of the newly promoted to stay in the EPL. There are still reasons for concern at QPR. There is uncertainty over a possible sale and there was a serious suggestion that Adel Taarabt, the outstanding player with 19 goals and 16 assists, would leave.
Neil Warnock is an experienced manager, however; who has built a very solid defense, conceding only 32 goals in 46 games. Combined with the recent signing of DJ Campbell from Blackpool, this probably is the best-suited club to remain in the Premier League for at least another year.
Relgation odds 2/1
Wigan survived by the skin of their teeth last year, winning their last two games in order to avoid the drop zone. Coach Roberto Martinez preaches an attractive style of football and occasionally Wigan will surprise with good stretches of form. Unfortunately the Latics haven’t done much during the offseason to bolster their roster, losing their most potent player Charles N’Zogbia to Aston Villa.
To me this looks like it could be a tough year for Wigan, and a return to the Championship Division looks like a nice value play at 2-1.
Other candidates to go down:
Wolverhampton Wanderers (+250)
Mick McCarthy’s been talking of a Top 10 finish this year… I doubt that’s the case, but they’ve made some nice additions over the offseason and should be solid enough defensively to finish comfortably within 11-15th spot.
Blackburn Rovers (3/1)
The Rovers new Indian owners haven’t spent much to improve the club. I could definitely see a nervous finish with Blackburn barely finishing above the drop zone.
West Bromwich Albion (4/1)
Roy Hodgson did a great job to guide WBA to an 11th-place finish last year. They were a fun team to watch, but were often suspect defensively. They’ve added a quality goaltender in Ben Foster over the summer, which should help greatly. I doubt they finish as high as 11th again, but they should be safe of the Bottom 3.
Newcastle United (5/1)
It’s tough for me to put Newcastle United on this list, as they enjoy some of the most loyal and passionate home support in the Premier League. There are some signs of trouble, though: selling star forward Andy Carroll to Liverpool last year and current transfer talks of troubled midfielder Joey Barton point towards a sinking ship. Things could get ugly on Tyneside, and a relegation battle is definitely a possibility.
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