With the title seemingly wrapped up at one end of the Premier League table, on the opposite pole things are far from determined in one of the tightest relegation battles in recent memory.
It can be argued that every team in the bottom half of the table is locked in this intense race for top-flight survival, with just six points separating 18th-placed West Ham from Burnley in 11th.
This relegation scrap has so far resembled a scene out of Wacky Races, with clubs changing positions on a game-to-game basis and taking turns to occupy the drop zone – this week’s unlucky habitants to fall below the sanctuary of 17th are West Ham.
With January business finally concluded, managers from Carrow Road to St. James’ Park now know exactly what they’re working with; some invested shrewdly while others fell way below fans’ expectations.
So, we’re now set for a fascinating few months as clubs fight tooth and nail to stave off the threat of relegation, but which of this season’s strugglers – that we feel are genuinely in this relegation battle (based on form, injuries and fixture lists) – are best equipped to retain their Premier League status?
Current position: 12th
Upcoming Premier League fixtures: Arsenal (a), Crystal Palace (a), Burnley (h), Southampton (a), Sheff Utd (h), Aston Villa (h), Bournemouth (a), West Ham (h), Man City (a), Watford (a), Spurs (h), Brighton (a), Liverpool (h)
Newcastle look relatively relaxed up in 12th spot, but events on the pitch have been far from convincing, personified by their recent drab draw against Norwich. That Martin Dubravka has made more saves than any other goalkeeper this season (103) is indicative of just how vulnerable the Magpies have been, despite picking up points quite routinely. Steve Bruce will feel confident of keeping his side afloat, but if performances don’t pick up on the turf, then Newcastle could be dragged into a nervy finish.
Key injury concerns: Emil Krafth (ankle), Jonjo Shelvey (thigh), Javi Manquillo (thigh), Yoshinori Muto (hip), Dwight Gayle (thigh), Andy Carroll (hip), Jack Colback (knee), Paul Dummett (thigh), Jetro Willems (knee), Joelinton (ribs)
Bruce has a number of injury problems to contend with, including Willems and Dummett who are out for the season. Shelvey is also struggling with a hamstring strain and is not expected back until later this month.
January signings: Nabil Bentaleb (loan), Valentino Lazaro (loan), Danny Rose (loan)
In almost atypical Newcastle fashion the club have amended their shortcomings in the injury department by turning to the transfer market. Rose will offer some much-needed cover at left-back with Willems and Dummett both sidelined – Lazaro can also slot in here such is his versatility – while Bentaleb will beef up the midfield in Shelvey’s absence.
Key stat: Newcastle have made the fewest number of passes of any club this season in the Premier League (7,920).
Current position: 14th
Upcoming Premier League fixtures: Everton (a), Newcastle (h), Brighton (a), Watford (h), Bournemouth (a), Liverpool (a), Burnley (h), Leicester (a), Chelsea (h), Aston Villa (a), Man Utd (h), Wolves (a), Spurs (h)
Roy Hodgson’s men have proven to be a thorn in the backside of the so-called ‘Big Six’ this season so won’t be deterred by their rather ominous looking schedule. Big results against Man Utd, Arsenal and Man City this campaign should stand them in good stead ahead of the impending storm.
Key injury concerns: Cenk Tosun (hamstring), Jeffrey Schlupp (hip), Mamadou Sakho (hamstring)
The Eagles have had myriad issues with defensive injuries this campaign, but Hodgson’s squad is now looking rather healthy with both Tosun and Schlupp expected to return to action later this month.
January signings: Cenk Tosun (loan), Scott Banks (undisclosed)
Hodgson was dealt a double blow on deadline day as moves for both Jarrod Bowen and Nathan Ferguson collapsed, but the acquisition of Tosun will certainly help remedy any ailments up-top, with the Turkey international already opening his account.
Key stat: No club has had fewer shots on target in the Premier League this season than Crystal Palace (77).
Current position: 15th
Upcoming Premier League fixtures: Watford (h), Sheff Utd (a), Crystal Palace (h), Wolves (a), Arsenal (h), Leicester (a), Man Utd (h), Norwich (a), Liverpool (h), Man City (h), Southampton (a), Newcastle (h), Burnley (a)
Brighton have played some aesthetically pleasing football under Graham Potter this season – as expected – but they find themselves in another relegation dogfight and will need to start translating their liquid brand of football into results – and soon.
Key injury concerns: Dan Burn (shoulder), Shane Duffy (shin), Jose Izquierdo (knee)
Potter has a near-on full strength squad at this present moment, with defensive catalysts Burn and Duffy both expected back at some point during this month.
January signings: Tariq Lamptey (£4m), Alexis Mac Allister (recalled from loan)
Aaron Mooy’s temporary stint was made permanent last month, but in terms of fresh recruits only 19-year-old Lamptey has been signed from Chelsea. Interestingly, promising Argentina international Mac Allister has been recalled from his Boca Juniors loan spell and could make a serious impression – keep an eye out here!
Key stat: Brighton have taken on more shots (including blocks) than any other team in the bottom half of the Premier League table this season (327).
Current position: 16th
Upcoming Premier League fixtures: Sheff Utd (a), Burnley (a), Chelsea (h), Liverpool (a), Crystal Palace (h), Wolves (a), Newcastle (h), Man Utd (a), Spurs (h), Leicester (h), Man City (a), Southampton (h), Everton (a)
It’s not looking good for Eddie Howe. The immediate forecast appears rather daunting to say the least and he will need to put some serious points on the board before facing that four-game spread of Man Utd, Spurs, Leicester and Man City.
Key injury concerns: Arnaut Groeneveld (foot), Joshua King (hamstring), Jack Stacey (hamstring), Lloyd Kelly (thigh), Charlie Daniels (knee), David Brooks (ankle), Chris Mepham (knee)
It’s safe to say Bournemouth have been plighted by injury problems this season and will continue to be haunted by the treatment tables for the foreseeable future – this could prove the difference between safety and sorrow.
January signings: None
Key stat: Bournemouth have had the second-fewest number of shots (excluding blocks) in the Premier League this season (179).
Current position: 17th
Upcoming Premier League fixtures: Spurs (h), Southampton (a), Sheff Utd (h), Leicester (a), Chelsea (h), Newcastle (a), Wolves (h), Liverpool (a), Man Utd (h), Crystal Palace (h), Everton (a), Arsenal (h), West Ham (a)
Villa have looked threatening and fragile in equal measure this campaign, but they possess the requisite talent to remain above the nether reaches. This may come down to whether Smith can get his new recruits firing on all cylinders from the off.
Key injury concerns: Wesley (ACL), Thomas Heaton (ACL), Jed Steer (calf), Danny Drinkwater (calf), John McGinn (ankle)
The big news for Dean Smith is that first-team duo Wesley and Heaton are out for the season, while McGinn remains on the sidelines with a fractured ankle, though the Villa boss has revealed the Glaswegian is “very close” to a return.
January signings: Danny Drinkwater (loan), Pepe Reina (loan), Mbwana Samatta (£8.5m), Louie Barry (£885k), Borja Baston (free)
To alleviate the voids of Wesley and Heaton, Smith has brought in Reina at one end of the pitch, and Samatta and Baston at the other. He will be hoping the trident hit the ground running from this point onwards and can help steer the club to safer shores.
Key stat: Aston Villa (32) have scored more goals than any other club in the bottom half of the Premier League this season.
Current position: 18th
Upcoming Premier League fixtures: Man City (a), Liverpool (a), Southampton (h), Arsenal (a), Wolves (h), Spurs (a), Chelsea (h), Newcastle (a), Burnley (h), Norwich (a), Watford (h), Man Utd (a), Aston Villa (h)
West Ham are experiencing difficulties both on and off the pitch, with fans disillusioned and driven to the precipice by their polarising owners, while David Moyes is struggling to coax a convincing performance out of his players – the upcoming fixture list will only add to the growing sense of concern on the terraces.
Key injury concerns: Andriy Yarmolenko (thigh), Felipe Anderson (ribs), Jack Wilshere (hernia)
Usually at this stage of the season West Ham are having to endure an abundance of injuries, but fans will be relieved to see just three of their current crop on the sidelines, with both Yarmolenko and Anderson set to feature later this month.
January signings: Darren Randolph (£4m), Tomas Soucek (loan), Jarrod Bowen (£22.5m)
Moyes ticked a lot of boxes in the winter window: Anyone but Roberto? Check. A midfield reinforcement? Check. Firepower to help out the underperforming Anderson? Check. He will now have to piece together the perfect puzzle to avoid a second career drop.
Key stat: Only three teams have won more aerial duels than West Ham’s 560 in the Premier League this season.
Current position: 19th
Upcoming Premier League fixtures: Brighton (a), Man Utd (a), Liverpool (h), Crystal Palace (a), Leicester (h), Burnley (a), Southampton (h), Chelsea (a), Norwich (h), Newcastle (h), West Ham (a), Man City (h), Arsenal (a)
Watford have looked a different beast since Nigel Pearson took the reins, but they remain languishing in the drop zone and still have to play five of the traditional ‘Big Six’ before the season is over.
Key injury concerns: Kiko Femenia (thigh), Tom Cleverley (foot), Craig Dawson (knock), Daryl Janmaat (knee)
Pearson has a near enough fully-fledged squad to tinker around with. Danny Welbeck made his first appearance since October over the weekend, while Cleverley is nearing a return.
January signings: Joao Pedro (£3.6m), Ignacio Pussetto (£6.8m)
It was a relatively subdued January for the Hornets, but Pearson will be eager to integrate Brazilian wonderkid Pedro in the coming months, while Pussetto could offer a fresh alternative on the flanks if Gerard Deulofeu is having an off day.
Key stat: Watford have the worst shooting accuracy of any club in the Premier League this season (40.7%).
Current position: 20th
Upcoming Premier League fixtures: Liverpool (h), Wolves (a), Leicester (h), Sheff Utd (a), Southampton (h), Everton (h), Arsenal (a), Brighton (h), Watford (a), West Ham (h), Chelsea (a), Burnley (h), Man City (a).
It has been a difficult season for the Canaries and already it is looking like an insurmountable task to remain in the promised land, with seven points currently between them and safety, with some rather challenging fixtures fast approaching.
Key injury concerns: Timm Klose (knee)
Other than Klose – who may miss the rest of the season – Daniel Farke has a complete roster to choose from, with Ben Godfrey returning from suspension after the mid-season break.
January signings: Ondrej Duda (loan), Lukas Rupp (undisclosed), Melvin Sitti (undisclosed), Sam McCallum (£3.5m)
Duda and Rupp have slotted in nicely to Farke’s frontline and will provide some excellent attacking impetus, while Sitti and McCallum have both been loaned back to Sochaux and Coventry respectively.
Key stat: Norwich have conceded the joint-most goals of any club in the Premier League this season (47).