A new season is upon us, and with it comes plenty of intriguing storylines. From massive traves and superstar uncertainty in the East to a West perhaps the deepest it has ever been, here is an early season NBA Power ranking.
Far-Fetched Friday: Leeds United Still Avoid Relegation
By: Jake Lofgren
Since the beginning of the calendar year, we've all known that Watford and Norwich would get relegated back to the Championship. The focus has been on what team would be the third to get the drop, with Leeds taking pole position after letting Bielsa go. And their replacement, Jesse Marsch, was hired into a nearly impossible situation. Leed had just finished a disaster run under Bielsa in February, where they conceded 21 goals in six games while losing five of them. They were only two points above the relegation zone, and that was still with some other relegation candidates having games in hand. And it gets worse when you combine this terrible run with the fact that Leeds has had one of the worst injury-riddled seasons the Premier League has seen. At times, Leeds has barely had enough senior players to fill their bench. And to add even more salt to the wound, the club didn't see it necessary to spend any money in the January transfer window.
Leeds' two relegation opponents have always been Burnley and Everton. These two teams have certainly been through their own adversity and managerial changes, but Leeds has always been the most likely of the three to go down. Everton hired Frank Lampard and have not looked great this season despite having a better squad to work with than Leeds, giving them an advantage. Everton also spent money for Lampard in January, while Leeds did not do the same. Burnley are an interesting one because they have avoided the drop for quite a few seasons now due to the help of Sean Dyche, despite firing him only about a month ago. Burnley also made a big deal in January, signing Wout Weghorst, who has been one of their best players since joining the club.
Alright so let's paint the picture on the remainder of the season for these three teams:
34 points (18th place)
Two games remaining: Brighton (H), Brentford (A)
34 points (17th place)
Three games remaining: Aston Villa (A), Tottenham (A), Newcastle (H)
36 points (16th place)
Three games remaining: Brentford (H), Crystal Palace (H), Arsenal (A)
Leeds United are dead and buried when it comes to goal difference as they have the second-worst in the entire league, only behind Norwich City. This means that Leeds MUST beat out Everton or Burnley on points. The good news for Leeds is that after Everton and Burnley play their games in hand against Aston Villa and Brentford, they have the "easiest" last two games of the three. Brighton and Brentford are two of the league's hipster clubs that play attractive football despite having very small budgets. Although, they have absolutely nothing to play for in these last two games. Teams always tend to play worse when nothing is on the line. Look at Chelsea, for example. Chelsea has been out of the title race for a long time now but always had a comfortable lead on Arsenal and Tottenham for the top four race. This led to a horrific run of losses to Brentford, Everton, Arsenal, and a poor last-minute draw versus Wolves. Now, the team has to try again to ensure they don't blow their chance at Champions League football next season. Brighton and Brentford won't get relegated, nor will they get European football no matter what they do. That is an advantage to Leeds.
Everton is the least likely to get relegated, but they still have some work to do. Brentford and Crystal Palace do not have anything to play for either but are significantly better teams than Everton. If they do not get the job done, facing Arsenal away on the last day of the season is a recipe for bad news. Arsenal will likely still be in the top four race and need a win on that day, making it an all-out war for both sides to get what they want.
Burnley plays Aston Villa next, who at times looked like the better side against Liverpool in their most recent game. They must go away to Tottenham, who is in solid form and must continue that to get into the top four. Then last but certainly not least, Burnley plays Newcastle on the last day of the season. Now Newcastle has nothing to play for either, but actually, in my opinion, they do. Newcastle is amid a massive financial takeover and is ready to spend big on more signings this summer. That means there are no guaranteed spots on the team. They have a few games left to prove to the board and Eddie Howe why they can be a part of Newcastle's next step. This makes Burnley the prime target to jump in the relegation battle.
When I look at what is left for these three remaining teams, I believe that Leeds will get more points than either Burnley or Everton and survive to play Premier League football for another season.
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