The race for Premier League survival is hotting up. As we move closer to the business end of the season, COPA90 caught up with fans of the current bottom five clubs to learn what each must do to beat the drop.
Seeing your club languishing near the foot of the table is never a pleasant sight. As we enter the January transfer window, struggling sides will be reassessing their respective situations and looking to change things up heading into the second half of the season.
Each club's situation is, of course, unique, so we asked prominent fans from each of the Premier League’s bottom five sides to run the rule over their team’s current issues. So, without further ado, let’s meet them:
What do you think’s gone wrong so far this season?
Danny (WHUFC): “The main stumbling block West Ham have faced this season is Fabianski’s injury – it’s no coincidence we didn’t win any of our first six games without him. There’s much more than that, though: Haller has been isolated far too often, Antonio’s injury issues, and Pellegrini obviously had his struggles.”
Mike (WFC): “Watford have suffered an extended hangover from the tail end of last season. Sanchez Flores’ reintroduction in the dugout failed to have any impact, with slightly improved defensive performances achieved to the detriment of our attacking threat.”
Aaron (AVFC): “We lost lots of players to loan and contract expiries in the summer. Players were brought in, with the average spend being around the £10m mark. I’d say we aren’t far from what was expected by the club – fans and the media alike need to manage their expectations.”
Olly (AFCB): “This season’s been a mix of mistakes and bad luck, with injuries dampening any ambitions the squad had of finishing in the top 10. I believe the current mentality is all wrong, treating every single game now as a 'must win’. One result, however, could change everything.”
Jon (NCFC): “There’s two factors at play here: the injury crisis that blighted us in late 2019, and then the fact this has eroded any momentum we’d built up over last season. Take three potentially first-choice central defenders out of any club and they’ll struggle at the back.”
What are the key positions you feel need strengthening in the January transfer window?
Danny (WHUFC): “It’s vital that a central midfielder is brought in who can provide adequate competition for Rice and Noble. A back-up striker is also needed as Ajeti hasn’t done anywhere near enough to show he can be relied upon.”
Mike (WFC): “Skipper Deeney has been among the goals, but with Gray struggling for form and Wellbeck sidelined with injury, options in the no. 9 role are limited. Unearthing an affordable alternative in the January transfer window is notoriously difficult, but if anyone can find a hidden gem, it’s Gino Pozzo and his team.”
Aaron (AVFC): “We clearly need a striker and a box-to-box midfield replacement for the long-term absentees, Wesley and McGinn. If we can take some of the pressure off Grealish and bring in a creative wide player too, we’ll be in a much better position come the end of the season.”
Olly (AFCB): “I believe we urgently need a defender, either on loan or a ready-made permanent fix. With a long list of injuries and/or fitness worries at the back, we need to dip into the market for more defensive stability. Another striker also wouldn’t go amiss.”
Jon (NCFC): “Strangely, considering my last answer, I think we’re now OK at the back with Godfrey close to a return. A proper permanent replacement for Tettey might be the most important business we can do. Oh and another striker to support Pukki would be nice.”
Do you feel any tactical tweaks are necessary to secure survival?
Danny (WHUFC): “Moyes seems to favour playing three at the back, so it’ll be interesting to see whether that works out. Hopefully, his tactics help bring the best out of Anderson. It’ll also be intriguing to see how long it takes for Diop to be reinstated as a regular in the starting line-up.”
Mike (WFC): “It appears Pearson has already made the necessary changes. On the pitch, he’s reignited Watford’s attacking threat, utilising Deulofeu and the unfeasibly quick Sarr on the flanks with Deeney playing through the middle. The trick now is to maintain the form they find themselves in; despite a run of fine results, there’s still no margin for error.”
Aaron (AVFC): “We’ve recently changed to a variation of a 3-5-2, and in Konsa, Mings and Hause, we have three ball-playing centre backs who often take risks. Now, when one steps out with possession, we have two covering and the added protection of the wing-backs either side. It’ll be interesting to see how the shape looks come the end of Jan.”
Olly (AFCB): “Tactically, we’re very flexible. With so many injuries, Howe has been forced to experiment with what he has left. The 4-3-3 we had working so well back at the start of the campaign is no longer an option, given the personnel fit and available, so I believe it's a waiting game until full service can be resumed when players return. Hopefully it’s not too late by then.”
Jon (NCFC): “Farke’s philosophy is very much to develop Plan A, which is an attacking brand of free-flowing loveliness on the eye. That won’t change, so something else has to. We’ve been so close to being really competitive, yet can’t seem to see out games when we’ve taken the lead. Grind out a couple of wins by the odd goal and confidence should start to return. Who knows where that could take us?”
Do you back the current manager in a potential relegation scrap?
Danny (WHUFC): “I’m not sure there’s too much that I’d fully back Moyes in. It says a lot that he didn’t get another job after being dismissed by West Ham the first time around until we came back to him.”
Mike (WFC): “Absolutely. Pearson has achieved a great escape before, rescuing Leicester from what seemed like certain relegation. Since arriving at Watford, he’s shown no signs of having lost that touch.”
Aaron (AVFC): “Smith deserves the keys to the city after his magnificent spell last season, but we can’t dwell on past fortunes. I 100% believe he’s the right man, but he has shown his tactical inexperience at times this season.”
Olly (AFCB): “Howe has been questioned by many fans on the South Coast over the last few months. Personally, I don’t see much else he can do – he’s made mistakes that have resulted in losing points, however, I do believe he will turn things around in due course.”
Jon (NCFC): “Given what transpired last season, I think I’d back the manager to knock out Anthony Joshua with only a couple of wet fish as his weapons of choice! The top division is so ruthless, but I can think of no better person to revitalise us if the worst happens.”
Where do you think you’ll finish in the Premier League come May?
Danny (WHUFC): “Despite all of the negativity, I do like to think that we will stay up due to the quality of players at the club, but that shouldn’t be the aim. I’d say we’ll be safe but still finish in the bottom half.”
Mike (WFC): “No-one is under any illusions as to the perilous situation, but there is a tangible sense of hope and excitement around WD18 now. I’m not going to get carried away, but I think (desperately hope!) Watford will avoid the bottom three and ensure a 14th placed finish.”
Aaron (AVFC): “There’s no doubt we are in a relegation battle this year, although saying that, I had Saints and Watford down and out a few weeks back. The league’s so tight this season, it could be anyone up to 10th who goes down…”
Olly (AFCB): “I hope we can finish around 15th or 16th but it will depend on whether we can make a signing or two this window and keep hold of our key duo, Wilson and Aké, who are both on the radar of Chelsea.”
Jon (NCFC): “The gap to 17th seems insurmountable right now, but two or three wins on the bounce changes the complexion of things so quickly. Strangely, if we could somehow scramble to 17th, I really believe we’d flourish next season and trouble the top half of the division.”