A quick look at the Premier League relegation battle

I spotted a PA interview with David Moyes yesterday in which he sounded surprisingly – and uncharacteristically – upbeat:

This doesn’t chime with how my model sees things. It’s pretty much given up on both Sunderland and Middlesbrough, suggesting that their respective chances of survival are below 1%:

However we can also look at something a bit more tangible using another graphical template I built. These are explained in full here but put simply they show how each club’s points tally is changing relative to teams in previous seasons.

In this case I’ve plotted the spread of points won by teams who went on to finish 17th after each round of matches in every previous Premier League season (since it was reduced to 20 clubs in 1995) and compared it to the trajectory of the current bottom five:

So Burnley, with 36 points from 34 games, look as though they should be OK – they’re earning points at an above-average pace for a survivor. In fact only two clubs have ever been relegated with the same number of points or better at this stage: Coventry also had 36 from 34 back in 1996/97 and Birmingham already had 38 at this point in 2010/11, but both ended up being relegated in 18th place.


Hull in contrast look slightly below-average for a 17th-placed team as it stands, although their recent win was a massive help. However there have been 11 teams in the 20-club history of the Premier League – the two mentioned above plus nine more – who have gone down with a tally that equals or betters’ the Tigers’ current haul of 33.

Swansea’s win also makes their position look a bit healthier, but three quarters of clubs who went on to finish in 17th place had more points on the board after 34 games. Two clubs – Bradford in 1999/00 and Fulham in 2007/08 – had just 27 points at this stage but won three of their final four matches to avoid the drop.

Middlesbrough are retracing the steps of the worst-performing club ever to avoid relegation in the 20-team era with almost perfect accuracy. The aforementioned 2007/08 incarnation of Fulham had the same points total – 24 points from 33 games – as Boro before winning four of their last five games.

Finally we come full circle to look at Sunderland’s current predicament. They may have a game or two in hand over the others but they are three points worse off than any team to have avoided relegation previously. In fact, all but one of the nine teams to have had 21 points or fewer at this stage finished rock bottom. The exception were West Brom, who also had 21 points from 32 games in 2002/03 but were kept off the bottom by the Black Cats, who had earned their 19th and final point of that campaign with 15 games remaining.