It’s been all change at the foot of the Premier League table since the international break began two weeks ago, with three struggling clubs changing their managers as they look to arrest their slides.
The timing of those changes is understandable as we now enter the most crucial period of the season, with nine rounds of fixtures taking place before January 1 – by which time the table will have taken shape and ironed out any anomalies.
The likes of Leeds, Aston Villa and Southampton will be looking to pull clear of the relegation in the next six weeks, while Everton, Crystal Palace, Wolves and Brighton could yet be pulled into the scrap.
To make things a little easier for ourselves, Sportsmail has looked at the next nine fixtures of the bottom eight teams in the Premier League, with the highest of those, Southampton in 13th, being just six points clear of the bottom three.
Of course, the picture could change drastically after January 1 with the transfer window opening and Newcastle, among others, with plenty of money to spend, but here’s how we think it’ll pan out between now and New Year’s Day…
Steven Gerrard has been appointed by Aston Villa as they look to pull clear of trouble
Current position: 13th
Current points: 14
Fixtures: Norwich (A), Liverpool (A), Leicester (H), Brighton (H), Arsenal (A), Crystal Palace (A), Brentford (H), West Ham (A), Tottenham (H)
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side were in a good place heading into the international break after a four-match unbeaten run including three wins. They cannot expect to get anything from away trips to Liverpool and Arsenal but should be able to pick up enough points to feel comfortable by the New Year.
Expected points on January 1 (predicted results): 20 (DLDDLLWLL)
Expected position on January 1: 13th
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s Southampton have improved after a slow start to the season
Current position: 14th
Current points: 12
Fixtures: Newcastle (A), Everton (H), Tottenham (A), Leeds (A), Watford (H), Man United (H), Southampton (A), Brighton (A), Man City (H)
After a blistering start to the season Brentford’s bubble has burst with four straight defeats, with the international break coming at the right time for Thomas Frank. Their small squad will be stretched over the Christmas period but they have enough winnable home games to keep clear of the relegation zone.
Expected points on January 1: 19 (DWLLWLLLL)
Expected position on January 1: 15th
Newly promoted Brentford got off to a brilliant start under Danish manager Thomas Frank
Current position: 15th
Current points: 11
Fixtures: Tottenham (A), Brighton (A), Crystal Palace (H), Brentford (H), Chelsea (A), Man City (A), Arsenal (H), Liverpool (A), Aston Villa (H)
Many expected Marcelo Bielsa’s side to be in the top half again this season but a tricky opening set of fixtures and bad luck with injuries has put paid to that. Expect them to continue climbing the table though, despite a nightmare December which sees them face all three title challengers away from home.
Expected points on January 1: 20 (LDDWLLDLW)
Expected position on January 1: 14th
Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds finished ninth last season but are 15th after 11 matches this campaign
Current position: 16th
Current points: 10
Fixtures: Brighton (H), Crystal Palace (A), Man City (H), Leicester (H), Liverpool (A), Norwich (A), Burnley (H), Chelsea (H), Leeds (A)
Steven Gerrard’s opening match at home to Brighton is winnable, but any Villa fans expecting a surge up the table may have to be patient with fixtures against four of last season’s top five coming up. Villa have lost 18 of 35 Premier League matches in 2021 and it may take a couple of transfer windows to reverse that losing habit.
Expected points on January 1: 18 (WLLDLDWLL)
Expected position on January 1: 16th
Gerrard takes charge of his first Aston Villa match against Brighton this weekend
Current position: 17th
Current points: 10
Fixtures: Man United (H), Leicester (A), Chelsea (H), Man City (H), Brentford (A), Burnley (A), Crystal Palace (H), Wolves (A), West Ham (H)
Sorry Watford fans, but it’s hard to see where the points are coming from before the New Year. Claudio Ranieri’s best hope of a win may be against Manchester United if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side continue their poor form. Christmas does bring some respite after a tricky November and early December, but the drop zone beckons.
Expected points on January 1: 12 (LLLLLLDDL)
Expected position on January 1: 18th
Claudio Ranieri has to navigate a tough run of fixtures as he looks to keep Watford afloat
Current position: 18th
Current points: 8
Fixtures: Crystal Palace (H), Tottenham (H), Wolves (A), Newcastle (A), West Ham (H), Watford (H), Aston Villa (A), Everton (H), Man United (A)
Sean Dyche’s side have continued their recent habit of being slow starters but results and performances have improved of late, with just one defeat in five. Burnley have drawn five already and more draws can be expected over the next month or so, which should be enough to lift them out of the bottom three.
Expected points on January 1: 16 (DLDDDWLDL)
Expected position on January 1: 17th
Sean Dyche’s Burnley are slowly turning things around after a tough start to the season
Current position: 19th
Current points: 5
Fixtures: Brentford (H), Arsenal (A), Norwich (H), Burnley (H), Leicester (A), Liverpool (A), Man City (H), Man United (H), Everton (A)
For all the excitement around their new Saudi owners and the appointment of Eddie Howe, Newcastle still have the same players – and a tough run of fixtures over Christmas. Howe should get their first win of the season before too long with three winnable home fixtures coming up, but January can’t come soon enough.
Expected points on January 1: 10 (DLWDLLLLL)
Expected position on January 1: 19th
Eddie Howe has taken over at Newcastle after their new owners sacked Steve Bruce
PREDICTED BOTTOM EIGHT ON JANUARY 1
13th – Southampton (20 pts)
14th – Leeds (20 pts)
15th – Brentford (19 pts)
16th – Aston Villa (18 pts)
17th – Burnley (16 pts)
18th – Watford (12 pts)
19th – Newcastle (10 pts)
20th – Norwich (10 pts)
Current position: 20th
Current points: 5
Fixtures: Southampton (H), Wolves (H), Newcastle (A), Tottenham (A), Man United (H), Aston Villa (H), West Ham (A), Arsenal (H), Crystal Palace (A)
Like Howe, Dean Smith has home matches he’ll be targeting for victories coming up early in his Carrow Road reign. Again like Newcastle though, Norwich still have the same set of players who have struggled so badly up until now, so it’s hard to see them climbing out of the bottom three before New Year.
Expected points on January 1: 10 (DWLLLDLLL)
Expected position on January 1: 20th
Dean Smith took on the Norwich job just days after being sacked by Aston Villa