Premier League: the battle at the bottom goes down to the wire
After the penultimate round of fixtures there are three teams fighting for survival on the final day. Here’s everything you need to know about their chances.
After a mammoth 352 days, the 2019/20 Premier League season reaches its climactic finale on Sunday with three teams looking to escape relegation on the final day. Norwich City’s fate has already been sealed with two of Aston Villa, Watford and AFC Bournemouth still to join them.
Aston Villa in pole position to stay up
All three sides seemed to have been affected by the mid-season suspension of play and struggled to build any momentum after the restart. In the first 16 games played by those sides, only Watford picked up a win and even that was against lowly Norwich, who have lost their last ten. Between them, Villa, Watford and Bournemouth managed just seven points from the first 48 available but have improved as the season draws to a close.
Villa have picked up seven points from their last three games to leapfrog their rivals and currently sit clear of the drop by a single goal. Bournemouth recorded a vital win over Champions League-chasing Leicester City and Watford followed up the Norwich win with a victory over Newcastle.
It is all set for a thrilling final day of Premier League action, with a realistic chance of survival for each team.
Aston Villa (away vs West Ham United)
What they need: Villa are currently in 17th so will be safe as long as they can match Watford’s result, providing they don’t both lose and Bournemouth win.
Boyhood Aston Villa fan Dean Smith achieved his dream when he guided them back to the Premier League last season but it has been far from plain sailing on their return to the top flight. They began the season well but a terrible run in the New Year saw them pick up just two points from ten matches to leave them firmly in the drop-zone. They have spent over £150 million on players this year and relegation would be a catastrophe for the biggest club in England’s second city. Defensive fragility has been the issue for Villa all season, with only Norwich conceding more. However, there have been signs that they are improving recently, particularly in a backs-against-the-wall performance against Arsenal on Tuesday night.
Potential hero: Jack Grealish
Villa’s Premier League survival is more dependent on one man than either of the other sides involved and it could be a fitting end to Grealish’s time at Villa Park if he keeps them up. He has notched seven goals and six assists this season, but none since the restart as his form suffered the same fate as the rest of the team. However, he remains central to everything that they do and his influence in the win over Arsenal saw them through to a vital three points.
Manager’s thoughts (Dean Smith): “We’ve got to go and [win] against West Ham on Sunday. Now we’ve got the season in our own hands and that’s all you can ask for.”
Watford (away vs Arsenal)
What they need: They need to better Villa’s result by at least two goals, as long as they don’t lose and Bournemouth win.
Whatever the reasons behind the decision, nothing could have summed up Watford’s time in the Premier League more aptly than a knee-jerk managerial dismissal. When Nigel Pearson was appointed in December, the club were seven points adrift, but a marked improved in performances to give them a fighting chance of survival. Despite that, he became the 13th manager to leave Watford in the last nine years, with under-23s coach Hayden Mullins stepping into the role for the last two games. They fell to a 4-0 defeat to Manchester City on Tuesday and face a tough trip to Arsenal on the final day.
Potential hero: Troy Deeney
There are better players in the Watford squad, but none better suited to a trip to the Emirates with Premier League survival on the line. Arsenal have struggled to deal with Deeney’s physicality at times and the Watford captain’s "cojones" comments in 2017 showed that he feels he can disrupt their backline. Not a prolific goal-scorer, but he comes into the game with three in his last three appearances and tends to perform on the big occasion. He has scored in wins over Liverpool and Manchester United already this season.
Manager's thoughts (Hayden Mullins): “Obviously it's a tough game against a very good side, Arsenal away and they're doing very well at the moment. We can only concentrate on ourselves, we're not really going to worry about other results going our way really."
Bournemouth (away vs Everton)
What they need: Currently three points adrift, they need a win against Everton and for Villa and Watford to lose.
Twelve years since a 31-year-old Eddie Howe took over Bournemouth with the club at the bottom of the football league, he needs another miracle if they are to maintain Premier League status for another year. This is the Cherries’ fifth season in the top flight and the first real relegation battle after four solid mid-table finishes. They climbed as high as third in the table back in September, but they have picked up just three wins in 2020 to leave them second-bottom as we head into the final weekend.
Potential hero: Callum Wilson
Wilson is on course to be the Cherries’ top goal-scorer for a third consecutive season in the Premier League after also scoring the goals that got them promoted in 2015. He remains their most potent attacking threat, but has struggled for goals since the restart and is now six games without a goal. Bournemouth’s final fixture is against an Everton side with nothing to play for and who they beat 3-1 earlier in the season, with Wilson scoring a brace. They will likely need something similar from their star man if they are to stay up.
Manager’s thoughts (Eddie Howe): “The key thing is while there's still hope we have to believe, until such time as it is mathematically impossible. You never know in football, crazy things happen.”
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