With the Premier League title all but sealed, attention and intrigue moves on the bottom of the table, where a whole host of teams could be sucked into a relegation battle.
Over halfway through the season, Norwich appear ripe for relegation, despite beating fellow struggler’s Bournemouth on Saturday. Even so, the same soundbites were being affixed to Watford a mere matter of weeks ago, and after a managerial change, the Hornets miraculously entered the final full Premier League gameweek of January above the dotted line.
By that same point, the 13th placed Southampton – who had also been all but dismissed as goners by some, even as early as November – were within just six points off 18th placed Villa. The tight nature of the table below the top seven suggests a higher survival tally than normal, and perhaps one above the mythical 40-point mark, which is so widely touted as a good benchmark for safety under the 38-game format.
Dumbing Down & The ’40-point’ Mark
Several put-upon managers of years past, particularly those of newly-promoted Premier League sides, have chosen to remain coy and publicly state 40 points as the target. Yet, a survival tally of 40+ points this time around would prove contrary to the usual requirements for Premier League salvation in recent years.
The past several years have shown that it is perhaps more of a psychological threshold for those in mid-table as spring approaches. Arguably, the presence of one or two dominant teams suppresses the rest, acting as an equalising factor amongst the lower portion of the table, and often affecting the survival threshold in a myriad of subtle ways.
Last season, in a campaign that saw the first and second-placed teams finish on 98 and 97 points respectively, a tally of just 36 points was enough to see Brighton stay up as the fourth-bottom club. The Seagulls also confirmed survival with a game to spare, and in turn, an average of 35.8 points has been the going rate for survival over the past five campaigns.
In a sign of potentially slackening standards, that itself is not much higher than the lowest previous tally ever required for survival under the 38-game format, attained by West Bromwich in the 2004/05 campaign. Fifteen years ago, Bryan Robson’s men scraped just 34 points, after being the only victors (and thus the sole survivors) amongst four teams involved in a classic ‘Survival Sunday’. The fact that the Baggies began the final day bottom of the table was a further testament to the low standards of the other dogfighters on that occasion.
How Basement Clubs Raise the Bar
According to the Premier League markets at Marathonbet, West Ham United are still amongst the teams vulnerable to relegation this spring. Representing a club which is no stranger to a relegation slugfest, the East London club’s class of 2002/03 became the world’s unluckiest team, going down with a 38-game relegation high of 43 points.
Sickeningly for them, that ‘heady’ total would have been enough to secure survival in any other of the Premier League seasons played since 1995/96. However, it remains widely identified as an anomaly and is very unlikely to be the bar for survival in 2019/20.
One recurring characteristic of a higher survival threshold is the presence of a team that finds itself consigned to a bottom-placed finish with weeks to spare. Amongst the past five seasons, the 2015/16 campaign required the highest points tally (38) for survival but yielded the worst-performing bottom club of that period (Aston Villa, with 17 points).
Meanwhile, in the aforementioned 2002/03 campaign, West Ham finished a whole 24 points (the equivalent of eight wins) ahead of last-placed Sunderland, with the Mackems’ final total of 19 points then being a record low.
Still Too Early to Tell?
This campaign, it seems as though only those set to enter February in the top-five have enjoyed anything remotely like a consistent run at any point this season. From here, experts can look at ‘winnable’ fixtures for any relegation-threatened team, but with teams like Leicester and Sheffield United vastly over-achieving in the context of pre-season projections, there are no guarantees.
When it comes to looking at the potential survival threshold, bottom-placed Norwich’s expected points tally provides a small clue as to what the exact number will be. The Canaries are considered likely to end up with a tally somewhere in the high 20s, which is generally typical of a 19th or 20th-finishing team. While a finish on 27-29 points will never be enough for survival, an average of less than 1.0 points per-match by the mid-point of a season is not necessarily a death knell.
Indeed, there are multiple examples of Premier League teams fighting back from far worse positions and going on to survive. Perhaps the most famous recent example was the Leicester team of 2014/15, which entered March on a meagre 18 points before a late surge over the final ten games secured survival.
Norwich fans are, of course, under absolutely no illusions. While the Canaries’ situation is not irredeemable, it most certainly will be if another winless streak is forthcoming. The same is also true of Bournemouth, with Eddie Howe’s men potentially just one defeat away from entering February six points adrift of safety, after conceding eight goals without riposte across their first three games of the new year.
How Many Points Will Be Required to Stay in The Premier League This Season?
Given the inconsistency of teams currently in the bottom-six and the average over the past five seasons, 36 points is likely to be the bare minimum needed for a successful survival campaign. Once again, the 40-point mark is very likely to be sufficient for a huge sigh of relief, while a tally of 42 and above is all but guaranteed to cement survival for another year.
What appears to be increasingly likely is a last-day dogfight between multiple teams against relegation, especially if the current points-per-game rate is maintained by all of the teams above Norwich. As evidenced by ‘vintage’ years such as 1994, 1996, 2005 and 2011, when four or more teams found themselves at risk of the drop come the final day, the Premier League has a documented history of some excellent last-day scraps.