We have been blessed this year with an uncommonly competitive Premier League. With only two weeks left in the league season, we still have active races for the title, the last Champions League spot, and the relegation safety places. The pair of prize fights at the top of the table may carry more glamor and prestige, but it’s the bareknuckle battle for survival down in the basement where you’ll find the best, bloodiest, most chaotic action.
Now that Norwich City and Watford have officially been condemned to life in the Championship next season, there is but one relegation spot remaining. That leaves Leeds United, Burnley, and Everton to duke it out for the honor of not getting sent down. The three clubs are currently separated by just one point. What’s more, they are each in what is probably the best form of their entire seasons. That combination makes for high stakes, major drama, and absolute unpredictability—exactly what you want from a late-season relegation scrap.
Let’s start with Leeds, the team presently stuck in the dead zone. What a difference a couple weeks can make! In early March, mired in a miserable, six-game losing streak, it felt like last season’s magic had finally worn off and the club had at last turned back into a pumpkin. That stretch of ineptitude saw the team part ways with beloved manager Marcelo Bielsa, and bring in American Jesse Marsch to try to right the ship. Then, all of the sudden, Leeds went on a run. The Whites followed that six-game losing streak with a five-game unbeaten streak, during which the team collected a crucial 11 points. For a while, those points, coupled with the returns of Liam Cooper and Kalvin Phillips from long injury absences and poor form from their relegation competitors, looked to have by themselves saved Leeds’s season with a month to spare. Unfortunately for Leeds and everyone who appreciates their delightfully bonkers playing style, that too changed in just a matter of weeks.
Right as Leeds was wrapping up its charge up the table, Burnley and Everton soon followed with pushes of their own. Starting in early April, Burnley reeled off a six-game, 13-point run of form that lifted them out of the table cellar where they’d been hidden for so long. Everton followed suit by piling up 10 points from their last five matches, which, after Sunday’s gutsy 2–1 away win over Leicester City, has leapfrogged the Toffees over both Burnley and Leeds into safety.
So where does it go from here? That’s what’s so good—it’s impossible to say! Here are the three teams’ fixtures for the rest of the season:
Everton, with a game in hand and an easier remaining schedule, would seem to have the upper hand. Their match against Watford on Wednesday could be absolutely critical. A win there would put them in commanding position, and a loss would be utterly deflating. Aside from that must-win, the rest of the three clubs’ fixtures appear tantalizingly up in the air. All three teams are, on a good day, good enough to beat any and all of their remaining opponents, but they are all fully capable of losing out as well. The margins are incredibly thin, and it will probably take the final whistle of the season’s final match to determine who stays and who drops.
The matter of who to root for is arguably a little clearer for the neutral. Everton is simply too big of a club, with too many legit good players and too committed to being good, to go down. Though for banter reasons it would admittedly be pretty funny to see Everton relegated after blowing hundreds of millions of dollars over the years, it would mostly just be a shame. Similarly, Leeds too has too many cool players and too cool of a story to want to see them tossed back into the Championship. (Though if Barcelona could steal Raphinha for just £25 million, which is what his release clause gets to in case of relegation …) So if you had to pull for any of the three to go down, you’d have to pick Burnley, with its dearth of exciting players and its playing style only a mother could love. Though it’s also true that Burnley’s refusal to play the patsy and instead continuing to claw to safety above its two much more lovable and expensively assembled competitors is plenty admirable in its own right.
But regardless of who it is that goes down, what’s inevitable is that somebody is going down. And none of the three want it to be them. Every match will be important, every goal will be huge, and I for one cannot wait to see what comes next.