This is proving to be one of the most competitive relegation battles for years in the Premier League and it should end.
While the weekend saw Norwich City and Watford seal a return to the Championship less than a year after their promotion, the battle to avoid becoming the third and final team to join them in the second tier is heating up at the end of the season. .
For a long time it looked like a dogfight between Burnley and Everton. However, their relative form to position in the table has been impressive enough in recent weeks to even drag Leeds United into the fight.
Everton are becoming a harder team to beat under Frank Lampard lately
But relegation rivals Burnley (left) and Leeds United have also seen their fortunes improve of late
Leeds themselves also saw a revival in their fortunes during this period, but a heavy weekend defeat at home to Manchester City saw their table rivals go home with Burnley winning 2-1 at Watford and Everton beating Chelsea 1-0.
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At the moment it’s Burnley and Leeds who are sitting well with 34 points from as many games with four to play, while Everton sit in the relegation zone two points down but with a crucial game in hand. Indeed, they are now all averaging around one point per game for the season.
That hasn’t always been the case, and all three have improved in one way or another after sacking their managers earlier in the season.
Burnley were the last of the last five to be without their boss who led them into the campaign when Sean Dyche’s decade-long reign came to an end following a 2-0 defeat at Norwich last month.
That was of course only four games ago, but Burnley had also only managed 24 points in 30 games at that time.
Leeds, meanwhile, ended Marcelo Bielsa’s tenure when the Argentina defense started showing more holes than a sieve. A 4-0 home loss to Tottenham in late February saw them with just 23 points from 26 games.
Curiously, Everton are slightly worse off in terms of points per game under Frank Lampard than they are under Rafa Benitez, who was sacked with 19 points in as many games following a 2-1 loss to Norwich in mid-January.
However, Everton’s tally under Benitez is bolstered by the fact that he won four of his first six games of the season before form spiraled out of control under the former Liverpool boss.
With that in mind, it would be incredibly unfair to suggest that Frank Lampard hasn’t improved the Toffees since his arrival.
Under Frank Lampard (right), Everton have become more dogged in a bid to earn points after the disastrous half-season under former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez.
Opta stats show how Everton have become a more defense-focused side under Lampard
It’s an old cliché, but teams usually start to stop bad form by stopping defeats and the former Chelsea boss seems to be solving that problem as best he can with the tools at his disposal.
Everton dug in. Sure enough, they have put the handbrake on now with goals, shots on target and shots on aggregate all falling under Lampard.
But while the defensive approach didn’t stop Jordan Pickford’s shots, it did see a drop in goals conceded from 1.8 goals per game to 1.5.
Nowhere was that more apparent than the recent 2-0 defeat at Liverpool, but for long stretches the game plan worked as they frustrated their Merseyside rivals at Anfield before Jurgen Klopp’s side did finally his breakthrough in the second half.
Chelsea also encountered a blue wall at the weekend, with Richarlison making sure at the other end he took a critical chance when presented with one to snatch a vital win.
Leeds also sought to fill those gaps at the back under Jesse Marsch by following the man-to-man approach under predecessor Bielsa that had been cracked by opposing teams with embarrassing ease.
Jesse Marsch (right) has improved Leeds United since taking over from Marcelo Bielsa
Leeds filled the gaps at the back without sacrificing any of their attacking intentions
Granted, Leeds were beaten 4-0 at home by Manchester City at the weekend – but Pep Guardiola’s side are capable of doing so against anyone in Europe.
In fact, the defeat was an improvement on their previous result against City after losing 7-0 at the Etihad Stadium in December.
They have since been beaten 4-1 at home by Arsenal, 4-2 by bitter rivals Manchester United, before following up with a 6-0 capitulation at Liverpool and the final humiliation of Spurs to mark the end of time from Bielsa to Elland. Road.
Jesse Marsch has at least largely put the defense away. Goals conceded per game fell from 2.3 to 1.5, with goals against expected also dropping from 2.1 to 1.4, indicating that the quality of chances offered to opponents has dropped significantly.
Especially for Leeds, there is no sacrifice at the other end, with the club still scoring and creating the same number of quality chances per game. Prior to City’s loss, they had also taken 10 points from just five games.
Burnley, however, took an opposite approach. Although they may prove difficult to break down, losing close games does nothing for the points column and the lack of goals seemed to be a key factor in their slide to the second tier. Even now, despite their revival, their total of 31 is the second worst in the league after Norwich.
Despite the unpopular sacking of Sean Dyche, form has greatly improved under Mike Jackson
Burnley have improved across the board since Mike Jackson recently took over as manager
That’s also despite being let go by interim boss Mike Jackson, who has now taken 10 points from his four games in charge.
Whether the new manager is bouncing back or not is a huge improvement and the stats show how goals and expected goals have almost doubled to 1.5 and 2.0 respectively per game during his short spell in charge.
All things attacking are also up in total shots, shots on target and even shot conversion rate, with possession also up nearly four points to 42%.
Curiously, the defense has also improved considerably. Goals conceded fell by a third per game to just 0.5. Attack may very well be the best form of defense.
Despite their improvements under new managers, it still seems to be one of three members going down in the Championship.
But such is their recent improvement in form, perhaps even some of the teams on what is generally considered the 40-point ‘safety mark’ above them – including Aston Villa, Brentford and Southampton – can still have an eye on their shoulder.