Premier League: The Top 5 Relegation Candidates
There are two races in the English Premier League every season: the race for the title and the race to avoid the drop.
Tons of attention is given to the race for the title, but the race to avoid relegation is equally exciting to watch, and it is often more competitive than the jostling for the top of the table.
We are currently a little more than halfway through the EPL season (20 games played out of 38), so it would seem like a suitable time to break down the relegation battle.
Which teams are in danger of falling out of the league?
Let's take a look at some of the top candidates who could be relegated.
Hull City surprisingly won their first two league matches this season, but it has been a serious reality check for the Tigers since those first two matches. They have gone a dreadful 1-4-13 (7 points) since that quick start, and they have found themselves in last place.
Hull have the worst goal difference in the league at -27, they are tied for the fewest goals scored in the league, they have the second-most goals allowed, and they have allowed the most shots per game.
It is safe to say that Hull City are not getting unlucky -- they are simply horrible -- and it would be very surprising if they avoid relegation this season. Out of all the teams in the EPL, they are the most likely to get relegated.
Sunderland currently sit in 18th place in the EPL with 15 points in their 20 matches. They have a -18 goal differential, which is third-worst in the league. They rank 19th in shots on target per game and are 18th in both possession and shots conceded per game.
Sunderland have a knack for avoiding the drop, but it seems like this season might finally be the year they go down. They don't have a good enough defense to get low-scoring draws, and they don't have enough offensive firepower to win shootouts, so they can certainly end up in the bottom three.
This is a bold prediction on my part because Burnley are currently in 12th place and eight points clear of relegation. That is a massive lead over their fellow relegation candidates, but Burnley are very fortunate to be where they are in the standings.
Burnley currently rank 18th in the league in shots on target per game, and they rank 19th in the league in both shots conceded per game and average possession per game. It is very hard to win consistently in the EPL if you don't have the ball and if your opponents are averaging almost twice as many shots as you are (18.9 shots conceded per game compared to only 9.5 shots taken).
WhoScored.com ranks them 15th this year, suggesting their 12th-place standing in the rankings is misleading. Despite their respectable place in the standings, Burnley are a dreadful team and are a major candidate for relegation even with their current eight-point cushion in the standings.
Swansea have a pitiful defense. In fact, they have allowed more goals than any other team in the league at 45. They have fired two coaches this season, and their team appears to be in shambles.
However, there are some stats that would indicate that things could get better for Swansea, as they are actually pretty competent offensively.
Swansea are tied for 13th in the league in goals scored with 23, and they are 9th in the league in shots on target with an average of 4.3 per match. Swansea are also 10th in the league in possession per game with an average of 49.5%.
Their defense is atrocious, but they rank better in shots allowed per game (17th) than they do in goals conceded (20th), so it could be a bit of bad luck making their defense look even worse than it really is. Their best defender, Federico Fernandez (6.90 WhoScored.com Rating), also missed most of December with an injury, so his return should help their defense somewhat.
Overall, Swansea have been a mess, but they have been a bit unlucky this season and their quality (at least compared to the other teams in the relegation battle) should be enough to help them avoid relegation this season.
Palace are currently only one point above the relegation line, so they are certainly a candidate to be relegated, but they are perhaps the best team out of the five relegation candidates in this article.
Their goal difference is "only" -7, and they have scored 30 goals this season, which is seventh-most goals scored in the league. They rank 13th by WhoScored.com's rankings, as well.
A team that scores this many goals is not likely to get relegated. Crystal Palace rank 10th in the league in shots per game and 11th in the league in possession per game, so while they may be getting slightly fortunate with their goal totals so far this season, it would seem they have the offensive capabilities necessary to avoid relegation.