As we enter the final stages of the season, three feelings begin to emerge in the Premier League relegation battle: Excitement and nerve. You feel excited at the prospect of a thrilling season-deciding game arriving week in week out. You also feel nervous because should that all-important game go wrong, the season may well be over.
This season is no different, either, as Newcastle United, Brighton & Hove Albion and Fulham all battle to survive and avoid that dreaded 18th place in the Premier League relegation battle. We know the three sides left battling, but the question remains, who has the most favourable fixtures remaining?
Starting with the team occupying that dreaded 18th place, Fulham will be feeling positive when weighing up their survival hopes. Their form has drastically improved since the turn of the year.
Scott Parker’s side have beaten Liverpool at Anfield to help burn the fortress down, drawn with Tottenham Hotspur and beaten Everton at Goodison Park. And they’ve done this all whilst playing football similar to a side in the top half. At times, they’ve lacked that clinical edge, but as the battle commences, that clinical nature should be discovered.
As far as their remaining eight fixtures are concerned, Parker will be wary of the talent in abundance his side still has to overcome. Next up is Aston Villa, likely with Jack Grealish back amongst the side. The next three games, see them face Wolverhampton Wanderers in one of the more favourable fixtures before matches at Arsenal and Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea.
The final four fixtures are slightly more favourable, barring the game against Manchester United, with games against Burnley, Southampton and what could be the showdown of all showdowns with Newcastle United to come on the final day at Craven Cottage.
When it comes to form, Newcastle United are on a downward spiral. The fans lost faith in Steve Bruce long ago, and who can blame them? With all the money spent in the summer, they should be sitting in the comforts of mid-table right now. Mike Ashley finally invested, but he did so in the wrong man.
When Rafa Benitez asked for investment, he did not receive a penny, but he still kept Newcastle up. Now, despite being handed the players to push on, Steve Bruce’s side sit dangerously one place above the relegation zone. Yes, injuries have not helped, but they have the squad depth capable of performing far better.
The fans should begin to worry, too, looking at the fixtures remaining. With eight games left, the Magpies face four of the so-called ‘top six’ with Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City all to come. They also face a side that should be considered in that same bracket with Leicester City to come.
The odds will be stacked against them with just three games left that will be considered winnable and in their favour with fixtures against West Ham United and Burnley and Sheffield United to come. When comparing notes with Fulham, who they sit two points clear of, Bruce and his side may well have to brace themselves for a deciding game at Craven Cottage come the end of the season.
Brighton & Hove Albion
Despite being six points clear of 18th placed Fulham with a game in hand, Brighton will know that anything can happen in the Premier League relegation battle. Graham Potter’s philosophy is beginning to pay off, but they must remain focused with nine games remaining. Out of the nine remaining games, they face three of the classic top six.
The first of those three games comes next, too, with a trip to Old Trafford on the horizon. Another tough game against Everton then confronts Brighton before more winnable fixtures against Sheffield United, Leeds United, Wolves and West Ham. But it will be the final two games that could decide Brighton’s fate with Manchester City coming and a trip to the Emirates to face Arsenal on the last day awaiting. They’ll be confident of survival, and, with Fulham and Newcastle coming to blows on the final day, Brighton’s fate may well be in their own hands.
Looking at the remaining fixtures of all three sides alongside their respective form, one would assume that Brighton will survive. That leaves Fulham and Newcastle. Newcastle are on a downward spiral with the pressure growing. Fulham, by contrast, are the plucky underdogs who no one expected to have a chance of survival.
They enter the final stages with little pressure, and that should pay dividends. It seems Newcastle have the least favourable fixtures, too, and when the pressure of a final day fixture at Craven Cottage comes, it could prove to be the end of both Steve Bruce’s tenure and Newcastle’s latest stay in the Premier League.