x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The battle to avoid the drop from the Premier League

We highlight strengths and weaknesses of the clubs that could be relegated from the Premier League.

Wigan Athletic, in blue, and Birmingham City are mired in a relegation battle to remain in the Premier League.
Wigan Athletic, in blue, and Birmingham City are mired in a relegation battle to remain in the Premier League.

Blackburn Rovers

So far: Dropped from seventh place into trouble in two months.

Strengths: A battle-hardened group of senior players who got out of a more precarious position two years ago. The return to fitness of some of their injured contingent and the exciting displays of winger Junior Hoilett.

Weaknesses: An inexperienced manager, in Steve Kean, who does not command the fans' confidence. A run of seven games without a victory. Only four games left at home, two against Manchester City and Manchester United.

 

Aston Villa

So far: The surprise strugglers.

Strengths: The promise of goals from Darren Bent, Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and Marc Albrighton. The calibre of a squad that finished sixth in three successive years. Manager Gerard Houllier's record over his career.

Weaknesses: Houllier's unpopularity with the fans and the unrest at the club. Defensive difficulties, especially at set pieces. A poor away record; only Wolverhampton Wanderers' is worse.

 

Blackpool

So far: Overachieved in exciting fashion.

Strengths: The outstanding performances of the captain Charlie Adam and an enterprising team's enduring ability to score goals. Their underdog status and manager Ian Holloway's ability to rally his players.

Weaknesses: Poor form at home, and five of their last eight games are at Bloomfield Road. The division's worst defensive record and the sense they will always concede. The limited ability of some of their players.

 

West Bromwich Albion

So far: Started well, faded and then sacked Roberto Di Matteo.

Strengths: Manager Roy Hodgson - they are unbeaten since he took over. Good recent form and a midfield that contributes plenty of goals. Hard to beat at home.

Weaknesses: The next four games, all against top-half teams. An inability to keep clean sheets - the last was in August. Striker Peter Odemwingie remains injury-prone.

 

West Ham United

So far: Adrift for much of the season, but have improved of late.

Strengths: Unbeaten in four games, taking eight points. The attacking threat of the January signings Robbie Keane and Demba Ba, and Scott Parker's never-say-die spirit. A group of players who should be too good to go down.

Weaknesses: A tough run-in - six of their last eight games are against top-half teams. Questions about Avram Grant's suitability. A back four who have conceded too many avoidable goals.

 

Wolverhampton Wanderers

So far: Beat the best, lost to the rest.

Strengths: Jamie O'Hara, a catalytic signing. The team spirit and organisation of Mick McCarthy's side. Do not face any of the top seven for the rest of the season.

Weaknesses: They lose too many games (16, the most in the league) and have had trouble against the sides around them. They also struggle on the road. The striker Kevin Doyle, vital in their 4-5-1 formation, is sidelined with a knee injury.

 

Birmingham City

So far: Carling Cup winners who find the league rather harder.

Strengths: Have a game in hand and four potentially winnable home games. A decent defensive record under Alex McLeish's pragmatic management. Tough competitors such as Lee Bowyer and Barry Ferguson.

Weaknesses: The lowest scorers in the league don't get enough goals and, with the fewest shots on target, do not create enough. The lack of a prolific striker and the absence of the injured defender Scott Dann.

 

Wigan Athletic

So far: Virtual ever-presents in the relegation zone.

Strengths: An injury-time winner against Birmingham last time out. The flair of Charles N'Zogbia, Hugo Rodallega and Tom Cleverley plus an excellent goalkeeper in Ali al Habsi.

Weaknesses: Only three home games left. A small squad with an over-reliance on Rodallega in attack. Draw too many winnable games and might have left themselves with too much to do.