We have reached that point of the season where the Premier League table starts to take shape. Naturally, we are bottom.
It would be lovely if - for just one season at least - we were not involved in a relegation fight from week one. Sadly, that is not our style. Every season we seemingly wait until all hope has disappeared before springing the trap-door at the last moment. It's like a magic trick performed by massively overpaid magicians who only have one trick. One year I fear we won’t be able to locate the proverbial rabbit in the hat.
Ahead of our game against league table neighbours Stoke, I thought it would be a good idea to look at the other teams that are going to be in that royal rumble relegation scrap with us. I'm not going to say which three teams I think will go down (largely because I think one of them will be us) but I will make my case as to why these teams are going to be down there come mid-May.
I have deliberately not included West Ham, Watford, or West Brom in the list below as I think all three teams have enough about them to stay clear of danger. West Ham have a first eleven that is good enough to push for a top ten finish, despite experiencing teething issues in their hideously named ‘London Stadium’. West Brom have the Pulis factor and, while it may not be pretty, his football is certainly effective. Add that to the statement signing of Nacer Chadli this summer and you have a team that should stay clear of a relegation dog-fight. Watford were many people’s tip to get relegated this season but in Deeney, Ighalo, and Success, they have the firepower to lift them clear of danger. This is just my opinion however, and I would be delighted to hear why you think any of these three should have been included in the list below.
You can let us know in the comments below or on social media if you are daft enough to think there are three sides worse than us!
Where better to start than this weekend’s opposition? After we failed to beat Palace and West Brom at home, and Stoke failed to register their first win of the season, this game now carries huge importance for both sides. Stoke have arguably had a worse start to the season than us. Their previously water-tight defence has been eroded away and they have started conceding goals for fun.
Their home form has lost its aura too; they have won just four games at home in 2016. For a side that includes players like Shaqiri, Imbula, Bony, Shawcross, and Arnautovic, Stoke fans could be excused for losing patience with the team. However, if they don’t panic, they have the most quality of all the teams on this (deeply subjective) list, and should pull clear of danger. They are on this list because – if the unthinkable happens and we win on Saturday – Hughes’ position may become untenable amid growing speculation around his future. A panicky decision by the chairman could keep them in the dog-fight.
Hull started the season like a steam-train. With just thirteen senior players, they recorded two league wins and one cup win in August and only narrowly lost to Manchester United. Since then, they haven’t won a game and have been torn apart by Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal.
Hull have been heavily reliant on the brilliance of Robert Snodgrass so far this season. However, a dip in form or an injury to Snodgrass would cause Hull’s attacking threat to diminish. With a squad that rivals ours for its lack of depth, Hull are likely to be tested most in the busy Christmas period. Sunderland fans have to hope that Hull’s initial burst of form at the start of the season was an anomaly and that they will struggle to regain early season momentum after recent thrashings.
Burnley have the same relationship with the Premier League that I had with girls back in school - they fluttered their eye-lashes for a short while but it always ended up in crushing disappointment.
Burnley have had two valiant stabs at the top flight recently (09/10 and 14/15) but, ultimately, it was a lack of investment and Premier League quality that cost them their place. In Sean Dyche they have an excellent manager, and the media love them for their plucky underdog status, but they seem destined to repeat the same mistakes of the past. They failed to invest in the team properly over the summer and they are going to desperately need the morally questionable Andre Gray to score more goals than FA fines. In 2014/15 they scored the fewest goals of all teams (just 28) and this could well be their downfall again.
Middlesbrough are an odd one. They have drawn plenty of praise from pundits for their start to the season and Aitor Karanka has used his impressive contact-list to bring in players like Victor Valdes and Alvaro Negredo. And yet, they only have six points (which I would shamefully bite your hands off for).
Their successful Championship side was built on a rock-solid defence and three defensive players in particular have stood out to me: Forshaw, Gibson, and Barragan have all been excellent so far this season. Like many teams down at the bottom of the league, scoring goals will be their biggest issue. They have put most of their eggs in Negredo’s admittedly handsome basket. They have a tricky run of fixtures coming up (after Watford at home this weekend) so it will be interesting to see how they cope with away trips to Arsenal, Leicester, and Man City in the coming weeks. With any luck, it will severely dent their confidence.
Bournemouth conceded 67 goals last season and their -22 goal difference was the worst of any team to survive relegation. Like Burnley, the media love them for their ‘plucky underdog’ status and I toyed with the idea of not including them on this list.
However, ‘second season syndrome’ is a real thing and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. If they continue to ship goals at a similar rate to last season (they have only conceded two fewer than us so far) then they will find themselves in trouble fast. And in Artur Boruc, they have a ‘keeper who will do his utmost to maintain their shocking defensive record. Sorry Cherries fans, but long may that continue.
Swansea were my favourites to go down this season and I have seen little to convince me otherwise so far.
They were the first Premier League side to panic and sack their manager. However, they surprised everyone by calling Ryan Giggs dull and hiring Bob Bradley instead (ok, so the Ryan Giggs bit isn’t a shock). They are on this list for the simple fact that their squad (like ours) isn’t very good. I like Swansea but they seem to have lost high quality players and replaced them with squad players – which as Sunderland fans know is a recipe for disaster.