Forest in danger, Leeds safe and Moyes out regardless – Premier League relegation predictions

With less than three months remaining the battle to avoid relegation from the Premier League has turned into a Royal Rumble.

There are just five points separating bottom-club Southampton and 12th-placed Crystal Palace – who are eight points behind Aston Villa in 11th – and this has made for a nine-way scrap with the majority of teams facing 12 more matches.

Right now, the outcome is anyone’s guess, with both form and fortune set to dictate how this season plays out.

With that in mind, here are the strengths, weaknesses and reasons to be hopeful for each side. Oh, and some predictions too…

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Crystal Palace

Strength

Palace have conceded two fewer league goals than Manchester United this season, so it’s clear that Patrick Vieira is building around his defence. Whether they remain as sound if Palace are forced to commit players forward in search of goals remains to be seen, but in Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen they have the best combination in the bottom half.

Weakness

Vieira’s team were the second highest goalscorers outside the top eight last season (with 50), so it’s mysterious that they have become so inefficient in front of goal. It’s now 14 goals in their last 21 league games, a pitiful record that is getting worse given that they have failed to have a shot on target in their last three. The strikers get too few chances; they take too few of the ones they do get.

Reason to be hopeful

The fixture list has been horrible to Palace over the last two months, but that does create opportunity. After their next two games (against Brighton and Arsenal), Palace have 10 more league fixtures. Eight of those are against teams below them and the highest-placed team they are yet to play at home are Forest.

Prediction

Palace have won all their home games against bottom-half teams this season. They will be fine.

Wolves

Strength

The defensive record at home has been excellent bar one or two slack afternoons. Wolves have kept clean sheets at Molineux against Tottenham, Liverpool, Fulham, Forest, West Ham and Southampton. For all the woes at the other end of the pitch, Wolves are effective at stopping their opponents having clear cut chances and Jose Sa is a fine goalkeeper.

Weakness

The inability of their strikers to score goals (or even get decent chances) has hindered any progress under both of Wolves’ managers this season. They are the joint lowest scorers in the division and things have not obviously improved under Julen Lopetegui, who is rotating his options in search of an answer.

Reason to be hopeful

Although Lopetegui has not solved the goalscoring issues, Wolves are in the top half of a table that covers only his time at Molineux. Continue to take more than a point per game under his (as they comfortably have) and three teams will not catch them. They’re inconsistent, but that’s just about enough.

Prediction

Comfortably safe, come the final knockings.

Daniel Storey backs Wolves to stay up comfortably (Photo: Getty)

Nottingham Forest

Strength

The home crowd? Forest’s form at the City Ground, where they are unbeaten in nine matches, has given them all their hope of staying up. It is not that Steve Cooper’s side are particularly fluent in attack at home, but – as against Leeds last month, amongst others – they have found a way to stay in their home matches and pick up crucial points.

Weakness

The inability to score goals away from home that blends with a tendency to concede goals in clusters. The record low away goals score total is held by Norwich with seven; Forest have four. They also are still to play five of the 13 teams above them on the road. Something’s going to have to change or they are doomed. Cooper’s team have been out of matches before even getting a foothold.

Reason to be hopeful

Injury problems have haunted Forest’s season, but the international break might help. Forest signed another seven players in January to further exacerbate issues of team cohesion. A couple of weeks together with Cooper will surely help him come up with a strategy with which to attack the home straight. It needs to.

Prediction

I think they go down if the away form doesn’t improve. And we’ve been waiting six months for that.

Everton

Strength

A determination to defend their own goal that begins from the front. The arrival of Sean Dyche was always likely to cause such an effect, but the industry of Everton’s midfield complements a deep-lying defence and an appetite to repel pressure and balls into the box. Everton have won 1-0 three times at home under Dyche – he has a plan and it’s working.

Weakness

The repeated injuries to Dominic Calvert-Lewin and the inability of Neal Maupay (or anyone else, but he was the striker signing last summer) to score regularly does mean that Everton have their eggs piled in the basket marked “clean sheets”. The improvement from attacking set pieces is obvious, but is that enough?

Soccer Football - Premier League - Nottingham Forest v Everton - The City Ground, Nottingham, Britain - March 5, 2023 Nottingham Forest's Morgan Gibbs-White clashes with Everton's Jordan Pickford REUTERS/Molly Darlington EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club /league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.
Nottingham Forest and Everton drew 2-2 earlier this month (Photo: Reuters)

Reason to be hopeful

The general theory was that whoever jumped first to appoint Sean Dyche would reap the reward of Premier League survival. A record of 10 points from seven games represents a modest start, but the players are now talking like they believe in something rather than nothing.

Prediction

The fixture list isn’t ideal (one home game against a bottom-half team) but Everton will just about squeak out of it, probably with a win over Bournemouth on the final day. Sit back and imagine the width of Dyche’s grin.

Leicester City

Strength

They have enough excellent forward-thinking midfielders that they shouldn’t be in this position. James Maddison is the best player in the bottom half, ably supported by Youri Tielemans, Harvey Barnes, Tete and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall. It is ridiculous that Leicester have fallen so low under a good manager.

Weakness

It went from not being able to defend to poor finishing and now it’s both. The defensive uncertainty is the biggest problem, though: Leicester have conceded two or more goals in 54 per cent of their matches, the highest in the division. Everything starts with a lack of confidence in their own third.

Reason to be hopeful

Maddison is now fully fit. Leicester have won one league match in the last 12 months without him starting, losing nine and drawing another. Maddison creates space for those around and in front of him. If he starts even nine of their last 12 matches, Leicester will, finally, move clear of trouble.

Prediction

It would be no surprise if they finished 12th, albeit that would cause no celebration.

West Ham

Strength

Honestly, it’s difficult to answer because West Ham are not excellent or terrible at anything, simply below average at everything. At a push, we might commend West Ham for allowing fewer shots per game than any other team in this feature. But that’s largely because their games are stodgy midfield-fests. It’s all so dispiriting.

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Weakness

Moyes’ team have been bizarrely slow starters this season. They are the only team in the country not to have scored a goal in the opening 15 minutes of a league game this season. Their earliest goal in a league game was Said Benrahma after 20 minutes of the home game against Crystal Palace. They still lost 2-1.

Reason to be hopeful

Jarrod Bowen has been the brightest spark in recent weeks, taking on opposition right-backs rather than turning back. A front three of him, Said Benrahma and Danny Ings should have enough in home games against Leeds and Southampton. West Ham still have to play each of the other teams in the bottom five.

Prediction

They will stay up, Moyes will leave and everyone will try to forget that this league season ever happened.

Bournemouth

Strength

Their January transfer activity seems to have added an extra dimension to Bournemouth’s play. With Dominic Solanke dropping deep to link play, Dango Outtara, Hamed Traore, Philip Billing and Jaidon Anthony all like making overlapping runs which makes Bournemouth both exciting and harder to defend against. We barely saw that before January, particularly when Solanke was injured.

Weakness

Gary O’Neil’s side are going to have to be exciting going forward because their defensive numbers are a mess. Bournemouth allow more than 1.5 shots per game more than any other team and also allow the second highest expected goals figure. Can they try and be more expansive without everything falling apart at the back?

Reason to be hopeful

In August, everyone said that Bournemouth would go down. At Christmas, everyone said that Bournemouth would go down. Now, everyone is saying that Bournemouth will go down. That can forge a siege mentality – “We’ll show you that you underestimated us” – but it also allows Bournemouth to avoid the pressure that engulfs the bigger clubs around them.

Prediction

I’m also still saying that Bournemouth will go down. So they can use my opinion as fuel too.

Bournemouth's Jack Stephens (left) and Dango Ouattara celebrates after the final whistle in the Premier League match at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth. Picture date: Saturday March 11, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Bournemouth. Photo credit should read: Kieran Cleeves/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.
Bournemouth boosted their prospects when beating Liverpool on the weekend (Photo: PA)

Leeds

Strength

It is still early days in Javi Gracia’s tenure, so any firm conclusions should be avoided. But he certainly intends to make Leeds less chaotic and has been successful in changing the team’s shape and style. The most shots on target Leeds have allowed in each of his four matches in charge is three. They had allowed more than three in 22 games in all competitions this season before Gracia joined.

Weakness

This may now change with Gracia preferring not to throw players forward, but Leeds have been absolutely awful this season when defending against players dribbling at them. On 42 occasions, an opposition team has created a chance through dribbling past a Leeds player. That’s 10 more than any other club in the league.

Reason to be hopeful

Gracia is going to make Leeds boring, which means they must be more efficient at taking their chances than they have been. Hence the demonstrable relief in Patrick Bamford after he scored against Brighton and the cheers when Rodrigo returned from injury. Together they may be transformative.

Prediction

Surviving by the skin of their teeth thanks to home wins in April.

Southampton

Strength

Ruben Selles’ arrival (or, to be more exact, the sacking of Nathan Jones) has had a vaguely transformative effect upon Southampton’s defending and that may now be their greatest strength. Under Selles, Southampton have kept more clean sheets in their last four league matches than they did in the 13 months before he joined.

Weakness

This is becoming something of a broken record, but Southampton have never replaced Danny Ings successfully and he left more than 18 months ago. Ruben Selles can tighten up the defence all he wants, but Southampton’s best hope of scoring goals remains James Ward-Prowse’s free-kicks. Ward-Prowse is brilliant, but that’s not sustainable.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: James Ward-Prowse of Southampton scores the opening goal from a free-kick during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Southampton FC at Stamford Bridge on February 18, 2023 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)
James Ward-Prowse scored a free-kick to ensure Southampton beat Chelsea in February (Photo: Getty)

Reason to be hopeful

Southampton have the best away record in a mini-league of those teams in trouble, having won away at Everton, Leicester and Bournemouth. They are still to go to Forest and West Ham. Take four points from those two matches, and they have a real shot at survival.

Prediction

It’s going to be awfully tight, but I have Southampton going down purely because they still have to play eight of the current top nine.

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