Which teams are in for the drop this season?

Wigan are just one team flirting with relegationMuch is made of the annual battle to survive in the Premier League, and scrutiny has been placed on this issue since only a few weeks into the campaign this time around. Any three of the bottom eight sides could well fail to beat the drop, with only three points separating Blackburn, in 13th with 33 points, and Wigan, who are propping up the others with 30. Between these two are – from top – Aston Villa, Blackpool, West Brom, West Ham, Wolves and Birmingham. Who will not have sufficient quality to escape dropping to the Championship?

One side who really should have enough is Aston Villa. Throughout the side, there are quality players, including four of the England squad who were picked to face Wales yesterday. Ashley Young and Darren Bent both started, with Young putting in a man-of-the-match performance and the latter scoring. Kyle Walker received his second call-up, while Stewart Downing also came off the bench late on. For me, Villa’s problem has been their back four. Their first-choice defence last year included Carlos Cuellar, James Collins, Richard Dunne and Stephen Warnock. Both Warnock and Cuellar have had lengthy injuries this term, and although Ciaran Clark has become an integral part of Villa’s side, any club with a regularly changing back four will ship goals. Villa have conceded 1.7 goals per game.

I also believe that West Ham should stay up. In Scott Parker they have a man above all other men; an honest, dedicated and hard-working player who gives 100% without fail. His quality both on and off the ball have earned him much recognition this season, and a starting place in Fabio Capello’s side that played Wales. The Hammers’ firepower up front is not to be underestimated; Demba Ba has scored four times in four starts since joining from Hoffenheim in January, while the loan signing of Robbie Keane from Spurs could yet prove to be a masterstroke. Frederic Piquionne and Carlton Cole will continue to chip in, while Victor Obinna’s flashes of brilliance from the wing will come in handy. The form of Thomas Hitzlsperger since his return from injury will also be of massive encouragement to West Ham.

Undoubtedly there is one side who almost everyone wants to survive: Ian Holloway’s Blackpool. In truth, the Premiership would be a dull place without the Bristolian’s hilarious interviews and his sides remarkable performances! Charlie Adam is a born leader and has a left peg to die for, but it seems that he will be on his way whether the Seasiders survive or not. A host of clubs are interested, including Liverpool, Tottenham and Blackpool, while even Manchester United have been mentioned. They are not a one man side, though; DJ Campbell and David Vaughan have impressed, while the signings of Sergei Kornilenko, Jason Puncheon, Andy Reid and James Beattie have bolstered attacking options.

Although Blackburn lie at the top of the pile that I am covering, they have been in freefall of late, having picked up just two points from their last six matches. The reasons behind the sacking of Sam Allardyce remain a mystery, especially considering that there was no apparent replacement lined up. No disrespect to Steve Kean, but Rovers have not exactly progressed under his management. They are without a frequent goal-scorer – their leading marksman is Nikola Kalinic with five – and he does not even start in most games. I therefore see Blackburn being pulled into the mix over the concluding weeks of the season.

West Brom, however, are now in a decent position to survive. Since Roy Hodgson’s arrival at the club, they have looked much more solid at the back, and have kept Roberto Di Matteo’s philosophy of free-flowing, aesthetically pleasing football. This added steeliness has seen the Baggies move up to 16th with their 2-2 draw against Arsenal being the highlight. Another side who should have enough in the locker is Wolves. Although they were rocked on Sunday by news that leading scorer Kevin Doyle will miss the remainder of the campaign, they are in excellent form, with eleven points from a possible last eighteen: not bad for a side in 18th place. Fixtures are also on their side, although that could also be their downfall. Playing teams low down the table would normally be preferable, but at this stage, those fighting relegation could prove harder to beat than those in mid-table. Even so, Wolves should survive.

That leaves two spots to be filled; personally I believe that they will be taken by Birmingham and Wigan. Birmingham appear slightly drunk on their success in the Carling Cup and a massive concern will be scoring goals. Birmingham have scored just 28 of them in the league, at less then one per game, making them the lowest scorers in the league. Nikola Zigic’s injury has done nothing to improve matters, and their resilience at the back may not prove enough. Wigan, however, have looked doomed for a while now, and not because they are bottom of the league. They are so unbelievably inconsistent that you never know which Wigan side will show up, and more often than not, it is the poor one. They have never completely recovered from their opening day thrashing at the hands of Blackpool, and their inconsistency – and lack of quality – will probably prove their downfall.

As I make it, that leaves Wigan, Birmingham and Blackburn as the three sides that will be battling it out in the Championship next campaign. But, then again, what do I know? In the world of football, anything can happen – and that has been proved numerous times over this season. So who do you think will be unable to escape the drop come May?

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