SOUTHAMPTON’S 11-years of mostly successful ventures in the Premier League came to an end last week, to the sadness of many genuine football fans. They will be joined by two other sides in the drop to the Championship on the final day of the season this Sunday, with the real excitement being the fact that three sides are still in fear of filling the two remaining relegation positions.
Everton in 17th on 33 points, Leicester City in 18th on 31 points, and Leeds United in 19th, also on 31 points, will be putting their fans through the wringer on what is set to be a fraught and nail-biting afternoon of football.
There are several permutations that may see any of these football giants face the ignominy of a drop into the second tier of English football while other circumstance may just guarantee Premier survival and avoid financial ruin.
Realistically, Leeds face the toughest challenge of surviving the drop from their second from bottom position, and the sports stats organization Opta put the club’s relegation chances at a devastatingly 97% on. The Yorkshire outfit absolutely need to win their final game against Tottenham Hotspur, which despite the Londoners recent indifferent form, is a rather tough task if your survival depends on it. Even if they accomplish this, they then must hope that both Leicester and Everton fail to overcome West Ham and Bournemouth, respectively. Even an Everton draw might not be enough for Leeds due to their inferior goal difference, so they really need the Toffees to lose.
They managed to pull off a similar miraculous escape on the final day last season under then manager Jesse Marsch. But it will require all sorts of conjuring, even from the miracle manager himself, for interim boss Sam Allardyce to pull this one out of the fire, as he has only managed a solitary point from the three games he’s been in charge.
Next up on the Opta stats is Leicester City on an 84% chance of relegation. Memories of the great Premier League-winning season back in 2016 must feel like a long time ago now for The Foxes and a truly wretched season has seen them lose 22 matches, with only Southampton losing more.
While they put in a brave performance against Newcastle on Monday night and will probably feel unlucky not to have claimed a win but for a couple of excellent saves from Nick Pope in the Toon goal, the draw at least keeps them in the game till Sunday.
Nevertheless, the Foxes will have to beat West Ham at the very least and still hope that Bournemouth can do them a favour against Everton all the while expect that Leeds don’t manage the unthinkable and overturn their nine-goal superior goal difference.
Everton have the best chance of avoiding the trapdoor with an Opta rating of 19% chance of going down.
A win against Bournemouth would guarantee them extending their long and record-breaking stay in topflight football.
At present, Leeds’ goal difference is -27 and Everton’s -24. Were Leeds to win by three clear goals on the final day and Everton to draw, Leeds would then finish above Everton on account of goals scored. While an unlikely scenario it is not totally beyond the realms of possibility.
As it stands, it looks like Leeds and Leicester are doomed with Everton just about escaping once again for a second year in a row. The club, it must be remembered secured some notable victories against Arsenal and Brentford and a staggering, out of nowhere, 5-1 shock thumping against in form Brighton. But then followed them up with usual head-scratching defeats to sides one would consider far inferior.
If the Toffs should avoid the drop, the club will need to take serious measures to address their lack of return for such a big outlay of finance. One suspects they and manager Sean Dyche might not be able to survive a third season in a row battling for Premier League survival.