Same as it ever was, the most exciting thing to come out of the EPL’s final few weeks will be the relegation battle. Chelsea have long-since clinched the title, and the top four race has seen plucky little Southampton drop out in favor of the usual suspects. The EPL relegation battle, however, is going to have a fascinating finish with a few clubs that we might not have expected in the thick of it.
Two of the spots in the relegation battle have already been sorted, with Queens Park Rangers the lowest of the low. Even if they win out – if you’ve watched QPR at all this season, you know they won’t win out – they will still only be at 33 points, which would leave them second from the bottom even if every other team in the bottom-eight lost out. Burnley nearly made it interesting over the last few weeks, but they’re holding the second spot from the bottom after their 1-0 loss to Hull City.
Looking at the table as it stands, it’s hard to predict who the final team in the Championship will be next year, with the five teams involved separated by only four points. The quirks of the remaining schedule only add to the mystery. Both of QPR’s final games are against relegation candidates, and several of the teams involved are also playing games against top six clubs.
That in mind, Strength of Schedule will likely play a huge part in determining who is left at the end of the season. All of the clubs involved are separated by only four points, so a single point could be the swing factor that keeps someone up at this point.
The SOS number is calculated simply by taking their remaining teams on the schedule and finding the average number of points the teams’ opponents have. (For instance, a team playing Chelsea, who have 84 points, and Stoke City, who have 50, would have a remaining schedule strength of 67, rather difficult. Meanwhile, a club playing QPR (27) and Crystal Palace (42) would have a far less daunting remaining schedule strength of 34.5.)
Ranked from easiest schedule to the worse to the most difficult, here are your relegation candidates:
Remaining Opponents: Sunderland (36) QPR (27)
Strength of Schedule: 31.5
It would take an act of the soccer gods themselves to get Leicester relegated with this remaining schedule. Two of the teams with the worst form in the league, with a week’s break in between. You couldn’t ask for a better fixture than QPR at home to finish off a season where you need to get relegated, especially in a climate where every team is separated by only four points and even a draw could be the point that gets you out of the muck in the end. Go to Vegas and put a dollar on the Foxes going down for the heck of it, just because it’s so unlikely that you’ll make a mint if the soccer gods do, indeed, have a sense of humor.
Remaining Opponents: QPR (27) West Ham (47)
Strength of Schedule: 37
A lot of people have Newcastle as a prime candidate to get relegated simply based on their rotten form dating back all the way to the departure of Alan Pardew, but they will truly be able to control their own destiny with the worst team in the league on the schedule along with a West Ham side that, while good, haven’t looked quite the world beaters that they looked in the first half of the season lately. Their form will have to go from garden-variety rotten to rotten dumpster fire in order to get relegated with those two games on the schedule.
Remaining Opponents: Southampton (57) Burnley (29) Arsenal (70)
Strength of Schedule: 52
Having three games left on the schedule, with one against a team that has already been relegated – this is significantly different from Sunderland’s final three, as you’ll see below – is a boon for Villa. And even though two of those three matches are against teams in the top seven as it stands, they at least don’t have to play against Chelsea.
Hull City AFC
Remaining Opponents: Tottenham Hotspur (58) Manchester United (68)
Strength of Schedule: 63
Hull City are unfortunate enough to be the only team in the relegation race not to play anyone outside the top 10 over the final stretch of the season, getting two teams who are desperate to snag top four spots to boot. Steve Bruce’s side has looked beat up and listless over the homestretch and even with Sunderland having the slightly tougher schedule down the road, it’d be hard not to bet on them finding themselves in the Championship once more.
Remaining Opponents: Leicester (37) Arsenal (70) Chelsea (84)
Strength of Schedule: 63.6
Sunderland made a great escape from relegation last year, but this metric seems to indicate it’s unlikely to happen again. Though they have three games remaining, giving them an extra game cushion to gain points, two of them are against the Champions and a very in-form Arsenal team that Arsene Wenger has made sure to keep going at all cylinders even against bad teams. Especially considering they’ll have to go full-tilt against Leicester to start their three games in two weeks finish, they’ll need another rabbit to get pulled out of another hat to survive this one.