Which sides will survive in the Premier League?

Listen to the latest Hit Row Z podcast (published 4th December) out now on iTunes – subscribe and share!

Hit Row Z editors Ben Harrison, Adam Widdrington and James Bailey discuss the fortunes of the sides fighting to stay in the Premier League.

Martin Jol follows Ian Holloway and Paolo di Canio as the third EPL manager to leave his post and we are only 13 games in to the season. Have any of these three clubs improved their chances of staying up by making a switch

Ben Harrison: I think it differs from club to club. For me, Palace have certainly improved their lot in appointing Pulis. He has a clarity of vision and strategy that I think players will be able to buy in to – he’ll make the game simple, and comes with a record of having never been relegated. If he can spend in January – something he did in abundance at Stoke – then I think Palace may stand a chance of surviving. Much will depend on whether he can make any progress through December so that it seems like staying up is within reach. If it is, the board should back him in the market.

For Sunderland and Fulham, I think the picture is less clear. Both needed the change, but in Poyet and Muelensteen, I’m not sure either has necessarily got an improvement in the quality of their boss. It would not surprise me if one or both of those two were not in their position come the end of the season.

Adam Widdrington: I agree that Tony Pulis’ previous Premier League experience will be vital to Crystal Palace for the remainder of the season, however with regards to him never being relegated, I’d argue that had he remained at Stoke longer than he did, they would’ve been in serious trouble. The side he has inherited contains far less quality too and that his January recruitment, assuming the board will back him financially, will be crucial. But what Pulis brings in waves is fight and the ability to win ugly, which is what he will be prepared to do and exactly what is needed.

The chances of Gus Poyet receiving a similar budget at Sunderland is far less likely however, given the amount of money spent over the summer. I worry for Poyet though. His tenure so far has been highlighted by two impressive wins against Newcastle and Man City, however he is failing to pick up points from those teams around him. They do have the quality in the squad to stay up, however given the manager’s relative inexperience, I’m still not sure their fortunes have changed very dramatically at all.

Martin Jol’s departure had been on the cards for weeks and five straight defeats was inexcusable given the talent they possess, so by default they have improved by giving themselves a chance of stopping the rot. Muelensteen’s biggest task though is to restore confidence back in to what is an ageing squad. Moreso than Sunderland in my opinion, but on paper Fulham don’t deserve to be in the bottom three, however we saw last year they are capable of taking their foot off the pedal and the new man will have to ignite some much needed fight into his players.

James Bailey: I agree with Ben that it does differ from club to club, although do feel that in Gus Poyet Sunderland have improved their lot managerially. Unfortunately for Sunderland, the writing might already be on the wall, although I do believe that they are not without hope. They made some expensive signings during the summer but for some reason it just isn’t working. Perhaps fortunately for Sunderland, Poyet is experienced in the Championship and if they did go down I’d back them to come back up.

For Palace, Pulis is a solid appointment. However, one of the huge benefits he had at Stoke was that he’d spent a number of years developing the squad before they reached the Premier League. They already had a strong team identity. This isn’t the case with Palace and much will depend on Pulis’ ability to fashion that identity in the immediate term. If not, he’ll be helpless to prevent the slide.

Meulensteen represents the biggest gamble. As I’ve argued elsewhere, Fulham are among the favourites for the drop this season, largely because of their inability to stop teams creating chances inside their own penalty area. Meulensteen will have to address this shortfall as a priority. He may also look for reinforcements to refresh a tired looking squad. Given his lack of experience, both as a manager and in the transfer market, I’m not sure that he is an improvement on Jol. Time will tell.

Palace have beaten relegation rivals Sunderland and Hull, but both the Tigers and Cardiff have recorded top results against the likes of Manchester Unity, City and Liverpool. Of the three promoted clubs, who looks best equipped to stay in the division?

AW: I must admit Steve Bruce has proved me wrong and beyond results against bigger teams, they have been the most consistent out of the three so far, however I do fear their lack of squad depth over the course of the season. Palace’s six point wins against teams around them are the key for me, and results that are going to make a huge difference come May, although they have the weakest squad in the league and as I mentioned above, recruitment is vital.

Cardiff haven’t performed quite as well as most had expected, although they have had to deal with a lot of politics off the field. Their squad has the most quality out of the three and this will prove telling during the December fixture pile up, and along with a vibrant home atmosphere, I’d argue they have the best tools for survival.

JB: Hull. They’ve got a steel about them that the others don’t. They have good experience in Tom Huddlestone (the most impressive signing by a promoted side this season?), and Robbie Brady provides them with a touch of quality that makes them very dangerous. Cardiff have flattered to deceive for me – however if the crowd can continue to provide a boost in their home games to make Cardiff City Stadium a fortress then they might just sneak to safety.

BH: I’d agree with James and say Hull. Like Adam, I had largely written Steve Bruce off as a dinosaur of the game before he reemerged with Hull City in the Premier League. And he is doing a thorough job of proving me wrong! Tactically astute, with some canny additions in the summer, Bruce is continuing to get more from an average squad than he has any right to, I think the Tigers have the best chance of survival.

Norwich and West Ham are also struggling. What kind of change do they need to see? A new manager or new players?

JB: Both Norwich and West Ham’s big problem is scoring goals. They’re creating chances in the box, but are way below the league average in terms of conversion. Carroll returning to fitness should provide the boost the Hammers need to survive, and fans will be hoping that Carlton Cole and Mladen Petric can step-up and ease the pressure on the big Geordie.

From Norwich’s perspective, I think Hughton has had his chance in the transfer market in terms of striking options. As Hooper and van Wolfswinkel settle to life in the Premier League I think they’ll be OK. While it might be a rocky journey, my feeling is that the Canaries would do well to hold their nerve and stick with what they have.

BH: Like James, I don’t think Norwich need any significant change right now, although if Hughton can’t get a consistent run together soon, that might change. Certainly on the playing side, they have enough quality to stay up.

West Ham on the other hand, are paying the price for putting all of their summer transfer eggs in the basket marked Andy Carroll. They need attacking reinforcements quick – but can Big Sam persuade the ownership to dip into their pockets again?

AW: James and Ben may be right, but you can’t get away from the fact that it just hasn’t clicked at Norwich this season and the main problem has been a lack of firepower up front. Hughton urgently needs to address this, although he will be hoping Gary Hooper can keep up momentum after his winner against Palace. No new players needed, he just needs his existing players to gel and fight for each other. If he can’t, then I do see a new manager being brought in, sadly.

West Ham on the other hand do need to dip into the transfer market and buy another striker. Modibo Maiga has struggled to adapt to the league, and Carlton Cole shouldn’t be relied upon, despite his strike at the weekend. When Andy Carroll does return, he will be under immense pressure to perform straight away to make up for lost time, and this may heavily affect his output.

Who, right now, do you think are the three teams most likely to be facing the trapdoor in 2014?

JB: Palace, Fulham and Cardiff for me!

BH: It’s tight, and I may be placing too much faith in Pulis, but I’ll go with Fulham, Sunderland and Cardiff City.

AW: No, Cardiff will be safe for me. I’m going Sunderland, Fulham and Palace.

Listen to the latest Hit Row Z podcast (published 4th December) out now on iTunes – subscribe and share!

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  1. […] Also, join the debate on who will be relegated from the Premier League this season. […]

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