The battle to avoid relegation from the Premier League is down to three with Everton, Burnley and Leeds scrapping for their top-flight status in the final weeks of the season, and Gary Neville and the Super Sunday pundits have given their verdicts on the race for survival…
It was a bad weekend for Leeds in particular as Everton and Burnley both boosted their survival chances with significant wins over Chelsea and Watford respectively.
Burnley and Leeds, with an inferior goal difference, are now only two points away and Everton, who are still in the drop zone, have a match in hand – at home to Crystal Palace three days before the final day of the season – so their destiny remains in their hands.
So, who will beat the drop and who will be playing their football in the Championship next season? Here’s how the pundits see the fight to stay in the Premier League…
Neville: Leeds’ performance vs Man City gives them hope
Sky Sports’ Gary Neville speaking on The Gary Neville Podcast:
“I’ve thought all season that Leeds play like a team that could go down because of their recklessness, their openness and lack of ability at defending set pieces.
“I have to say that performance level against Man City, even though they lost 4-0, was very different from the performances we’ve seen this season where they’ve been battered 4-0, 5-0 and 6-0, and we thought what the hell was that?
“The performance against City was very different. They were playing against a great side, but it wasn’t a 4-0 performance. That performance in the final games keeps them up, but it’s whether they start to get jittery.”
‘Pressure now on Leeds’
Neville added: “Everton’s win is big. That puts massive pressure on Leeds, and it is how these players handle it.
“The Leeds crowd responded to the performance against City. They knew their side put a real shift in and it wasn’t chaotic as we’d seen previously, where they just looked like a mess.
“They were organised, they were decent, and they didn’t get that luck. They were a bit frantic in the final third and they’ve got to stop conceding goals from defensive set pieces.
“Losing Liam Cooper and Stuart Dallas is a problem there. It’s been the story of their season.
“They do things that teams that go down do. They concede goals from set pieces, they are frantic in the final third and they lack composure, but I do think if they can put four performances in like the one against Man City, it keeps them up.”
May 8 – Arsenal (a), live on Sky Sports
May 11 – Chelsea (h), live on Sky Sports
May 15 – Brighton (h)
May 22 – Brentford (a)
‘The momentum is not with Leeds’
Sky Sports’ Alan Smith on Leeds being dragged into the relegation mix:
“We haven’t spoken about Leeds too much in terms of relegation, but very often a team comes into the reckoning in the last few weeks. They haven’t got the momentum with a couple of tough games coming up. Burnley have had some great results.
“Everton are going to have to get something from Leicester and Watford. With Watford being virtually down, you’d imagine Everton will have the edge there. Leicester, are they still going to be in Europe? That’s another question by the time that fixture comes up. They need to go on the road and become a better team than they have been.
“The teams you want to play are the ones in mid-table, the ones that are maybe psychologically on the beach. You don’t want to be playing relegation-threatened teams.”
‘Everton have another lifeline’
Sky Sports’ Jamie Redknapp on Everton’s win over Chelsea:
“What a three points for them especially with what Burnley are doing.
“I’m sure Frank Lampard, if they had lost this game, would have started to think it might be too late.
“It’s an unbelievable three points for them, it’s given them another lifeline.”
May 7 – Leicester City (a)
May 11 – Watford (a)
May 15 – Brentford (a)
May 19 – Crystal Palace (h)
May 22 – Arsenal (a)
‘Everton’s home form key’
Redknapp added: “It’s the home form you feel will keep them up, but can they somehow manufacture a win away? They’ve only had one all season – not good enough. They’ve got to find a way of going away and being difficult to beat, picking up some points.
“They’ve been a different team when they’ve played at home, but can they now change that mindset away? If they can, then they’ll stay in the Premier League. If they can’t, then they’ll go down.
“When you’re playing teams and winning away from home, you’ve got to have a bit of character about you. That’s probably what the problem has been there, not enough characters.”
‘Where has that been all season from Everton?’
Sky Sports’ Graeme Souness on Everton’s desire after Chelsea win:
“They competed all over the pitch from the first minute to the last.
“They only had 22 per cent of the ball but they deserved to win the game simply because their attitude and aggression showed they were trying to win the game.
“The question you’ve got to ask yourself is, why has it not been like that all season?
“It’s in the players, you can’t just do it when the crowd are up for it. They have to be like that in every remaining game.”
Neville: ‘Burnley’s turnaround incredible’
Sky Sports’ Gary Neville speaking on The Gary Neville Podcast:
“Burnley’s comeback was a surprise. It shocked us and it would have shocked Leeds United.
When asked about Burnley’s revival, Neville added: “I know a few Burnley fans and we were all horrified when Sean Dyche got sacked. We were all shocked because maybe we are not as close to the situation internally at Burnley.
“Burnley fans were respectful of the job Sean Dyche had done. What an amazing job, and I think it is one of the amazing jobs in the Premier League to do what he’s done, but actually there was a feeling from Burnley fans that maybe the change was needed to have any chance of staying up.
“That made it feel like it wasn’t as big a shock as it was on the ground in Burnley. Maybe that was actually the case because we’ve seen what has happened since, which is absolutely incredible.
“They’ve got a spirit Burnley and we’ve always known that. Dyche has put that into those players, but if the same voice of the manager has been talking to the players every day for a large number of years there comes a point whereby the manager is tired of talking to the players and the players are tired of hearing from that manager.
“It just felt like there was a bit of that at the end of Dyche’s reign at Burnley.”
‘Burnley have given themselves a chance’ | ‘Comeback win a shock wave’
Neville added: “Burnley have given themselves a chance.
“I am aware of their model in terms of they do have a very strong incentive on the players staying in the league. They’ve always been committed so I think you always get a fight to the end.
“From somewhere, they’ve galvanised, they’ve brought it all together and that was a massive win at Watford.
“It was like a shock wave, a tremor through the Premier League, particularly at the bottom.”
May 7 – Aston Villa (h)
May 15 – Tottenham (a)
May 19 – Aston Villa (a)
May 22 – Newcastle (h)
Everton’s next clash is a trip to Leicester City, before their crucial game in hand away at Watford on May 11. Frank Lampard’s side end the season with home games against Brentford and Crystal Palace and then go to Arsenal on the final day of the season.
Burnley will look to maintain their position just above the relegation zone against Aston Villa next Wednesday. The Clarets travel to Tottenham and Aston Villa later in May before hosting Newcastle for their final game of the campaign.
Leeds’ next challenge in their top-flight survival bid sees them go to top four-chasing Arsenal next Sunday, live on Sky Sports with kick-off at 2pm. They end the season with home matches against Chelsea and Brighton, before going to Brentford on the final day of the season.