There has never been such a relegation battle in the Premier League

To get a sense of how volatile the Premier League bottom half is, you only have to look at the preparation for Patrick Vieira’s sacking. It wasn’t long ago that it was widely said Arsenal chose the wrong former midfielder in Mikel Arteta and that Vieira would be the club’s future.

That was all turned on its head and that’s exactly what could happen with the bottom half of the table. The situation is all the more striking as Palace are still in 12th place. The problem, even before you get to the club’s long winning streak, is that they are just five points above bottom and three above the relegation zone. There has never been such a bang.

The closest other season at this stage of the season, with 11/12 games remaining, was the seven points between 12th and 20th – and 10 between 10th and bottom – in 2010–11. This had a mass race to the end and it’s impossible not to believe this will be similar, or maybe even more chaotic. Up to 40 per cent of the Premier League is in trouble.

At that number, any small boost in form can save a team, any longer absence can put them in real danger.

Here are palaces. Vieira initially found success by marrying an increasingly rare tactical pragmatism with brilliant young talent, only for this to inevitably wear off and the team now felt limited. She and the board believe there is much more they can do, which is why he left.

There has been a longer-term malaise that has created short-term risks. Palace aren’t the only side in this situation and it’s no coincidence that most of these are the wealthier clubs, which has only weighed more heavily on the bottom half. Brendan Rodgers is attempting an ongoing transition at Leicester City, with that undermining from injuries, the uncertainty symbolized by Jamie Vardy no longer being able to play in the same way. So at West Ham United it’s hard to tell whether this is one of David Moyes’ usual off-seasons as he rebuilds, or – like Vieira – the squad has just been jaded by his approach. Some at the club are deeply concerned by the constant lack of response and it doesn’t help if they feel the manager’s future is under constant scrutiny.

Patrick Vieira’s Crystal Palace are without a win in 12 games this year

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On the other hand, Southampton looks like one of those clubs that have just been in the Premier League for too long and kind of let their run run. Exactly the same thing happened with previous ‘model clubs’ like Fulham 2014, West Brom 2015, Swansea City 2018 and Bournemouth 2020. It’s almost as if stagnation sets in as they eventually hit a ceiling.

Like at least three of those clubs, Southampton had the red flag of changing managers twice in one season. This almost never ends well, and is in fact the surest sign of a spin.

However, a related problem for clubs like Palace and West Ham is that there is also a point where a change of manager simply cannot have the desired effect; when there is not enough left of the season; when there is not enough time for a new man to impose his methods.

Everton and perhaps Leeds United may have gotten it spot on in that sense by bringing in Sean Dyche and Javi Gracia respectively. The big caveat here is that the table is usually much more stretched. In this campaign, any type of concussion can have real range.

(Getty Images)

It might be a rare time of year where there are major snakes and ladders and clubs quite late to roll the dice. It could also be a sign for the future.

The crisis appears to be an inevitable result of the financial ladder, where the Premier League has become almost a four-tier division, actually stretching to the top of the league. Because of this we are now seeing so many of the same clubs reappearing. There’s the old Big Six – who might split themselves up – and then arguably Newcastle United, followed by the innovative, up-and-coming Brentford and Brighton and a group that usually includes Leicester City before a long trough goes into the Championship and sees Die Majority tries to avoid falling there.

Finances make it look like it could stay that way for some time, especially as this crisis has been creaking the Premier League for a number of years. The gaps got smaller.

It could also be a vision of an alternate football universe where the big six had broken into a Super League. This is the kind of unpredictability that could now define the Premier League; where everything goes.

It’s going to be decided at least in the bottom end, or bottom half really, this season. There has never been such a relegation battle in the Premier League

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