Halfway through the 2017-18 season, the Premier League relegation battle is a mess.
There is no clear worst team. There is no clear separation between those in danger of relegation and those safe. There is simply a jumbled mess of teams toward the bottom of the league that have yet to sort themselves out. Saturday offered a bit of clarity, but not much.
However, with the race so tight, and with 10 teams seemingly so similar in quality, every weekend between now and May could prove decisive. That’s why wins for Brighton, Stoke and Newcastle – over Watford, West Brom and West Ham, respectively – weren’t just any old wins. They can no longer merely be considered positive early-season results.
Every game between teams in the bottom half of the league could end up being a relegation six-pointer. There’s no way to tell which ones ultimately will be. So we must treat all of them as such. And there were four or five on Saturday.
One relegation struggler came up against the juggernaut running away with the league, so we’ll start our roundup there out of obligation. But the most compelling games happened down toward the bottom of the league. We’ll get to them soon enough.
The closest City has come to a Premier League loss along its road to 17 consecutive wins was the first of the 17. It needed a 97th-minute Raheem Sterling winner to win at Bournemouth back in August. The return fixture offered far less to fret about.
City was somewhat sloppy in the first first half, but Sergio Aguero’s 27th-minute header set the league-leaders on their way.
Sterling erased any doubt early in the second half.
Aguero and Danilo completed the 4-0 rout late on. City went 14 points clear at the top of the table, at least until Manchester United’s showdown with Leicester later in the day.
Bournemouth, meanwhile, slipped into the relegation zone, because …
Stoke City 3-1 West Brom
Stoke jumped from 17th place up into 14th with a win that should lift at least a bit of pressure off the shoulders of Mark Hughes.
The Potters were cruising at halftime thanks to goals from Joe Allen and Maxim Choupo-Moting. Salomon Rondon pulled one back for West Brom early in the second half, but Choupo-Moting set up Ramadan Sobhi for a late Stoke third.
West Brom had gone stale under Tony Pulis, but the Baggies have sunk even further since sacking the Premier League’s preeminent survival expert. They now sit in 19th, three points from safety, and only one point above bottom.
Swansea City 1-1 Crystal Palace
If there is a relegation favorite, it’s Swansea. The Welsh side sacked Paul Clement this past week, and will have gone through four managers in 13 months when it hires Clement’s replacement. It entered the weekend in 20th, and as arguably the worst of the 20 teams.
A home match against Crystal Palace, therefore, was pivotal. A loss would have been troubling. And it appeared to be on the cards when Palace went ahead from the penalty spot in the second half. But Jordan Ayew popped up with a stunning equalizer to rescue a crucial point.
Brighton 1-0 Watford
Based solely on the eye test, Brighton seems comparable to Swansea. But it snatched another massive win to leap into 12th place. Shrewd summer signing Pascal Gross got the winner at home, where Brighton have only lost twice in 10 Premier League games.
Southampton 1-1 Huddersfield
The other newly-promoted side widely expected to sink straight back down into the Championship, Huddersfield, claimed another impressive result at Southampton. The Saints took what felt like a comfortable lead into halftime, but Laurent Depoitre rose for an embarrassingly free header to nick a point for the Terriers:
West Ham 2-3 Newcastle
After a strong start, Newcastle had taken just one lone point from its last nine Premier League games. It was an unlucky, but nonetheless pitiful, run. It finally ended on Saturday.
An early goal for either side had Newcastle and West Ham locked at 1-1 for most of the first half. Early in the second, Mohamed Diame set the Magpies on their way:
Christian Atsu gave the visitors a commanding 3-1 lead eight minutes later.
Andre Ayew’s goal made for a nerve-wracking final 20 minutes for the traveling fans, but Rafa Benitez’s men held out for a massive victory. It dragged them up out of the relegation zone, and into 15th place.
Everton 0-0 Chelsea
Chelsea managed 25 shots to Everton’s five, and eight shots on goal to Everton’s zero. But the lackluster Toffees were again recipients of some good fortune, and escaped with a point. Chelsea, meanwhile, failed to open up a significant gap between itself and Arsenal and Liverpool.