As the Premier League table starts to take shape, the battle for survival looks to be another close affair this season with a host of clubs already fighting to avoid the dreaded drop – and others scrambling to avoid the dust cloud.
Everton are the surprise strugglers so far, coming off the back of an excellent season last term which saw them finish as the ‘best of the rest’ in fifth, and reach the FA Cup final at Wembley. David Moyes will have not expected such a poor start to the season having set such high standards in recent years, and not even a spirited, and perhaps unlucky, defeat at the hands of Liverpool in the Merseyside derby or a favourable home draw against Carlisle United in the FA Cup have seemed to buoy his spirits. Defeat at Hull City would have been a massive blow in their attempts to climb the table and the derby day defeat sees them currently on a run of just one win in the last 11 games. Many will view this only as a short term blip, however, with Everton possessing one of the best squads in the league outside the top four. A good run in the Europa League could see their season kick-started and there is no doubt they will be looking up not down.
West Ham United find themselves struggling at the wrong of the table having come to life under Gianfranco Zola last season, gaining a top half finish and a reputation as a side that plays football the right way. Many Hammers fans will look at the table as it stands and have flashbacks to their relegation season in 2002/03 when they fell through the Premier League trapdoor with a squad which contained Paolo Di Canio, Jermain Defoe and Michael Carrick, to name just a few, and was arguably better than their current crop. The sale of influential centre-back James Collins to Aston Villa was seen by many as a negative move by the club, and perhaps indicative of West Ham’s well-documented financial frailties. The fitness of England striker Carlton Cole will be key to the Hammers’ season, and many West Ham fans will have looked on with concern as Cole exited the action against Burnley having just scored from the penalty spot. He is expected to miss some crucial games for the club with a knee injury, as well as being linked with a £20m move away from Upton Park in January.
Bolton Wanderers fans will fear the worst having been unable to make any progress since Sam Allardyce left the club in 2007. An unsuccessful spell in charge for Allardyce’s old number two Sammy Lee saw him replaced by former Leicester, Nottingham Forest and West Brom boss Gary Megson. This was a move which puzzled many, especially fans of clubs he previously managed. Having seen Nottingham Forest relegated from The Championship and into League One, Megson endured a torrid time at the Reds, which saw him leave the club and many will be wondering how he has worked his way back up to Premier League management. Record signing Johan Elmander has struggled to come to terms with Premier League life since his £11m move from Toulouse, and has only netted once so far this season as the club sit in the relegation places. Bolton have lost their image of a physical and hard to beat side, perhaps surrendering this crown to Stoke City.
It looks as if Mick McCarthy’s young Wolves side will also be facing a struggle to remain in the top flight this season. A slow but promising start to the campaign saw Wolves defeat Wigan Athletic before picking up creditable draws against Everton, Aston Villa and Stoke. However, hammerings at the hands of Chelsea and Arsenal have highlighted their defensive problems and a lacklustre home defeat to rivals Birmingham City will have disappointed most of the Wolves faithful. A lack of experience could cost them dearly this season, with naive performances often punished heavily at Premier League level.
It is Avram Grant who faces the unenviable task of keeping Portsmouth in the Premier League, after the unlucky Paul Hart was finally put out of his misery and removed from his post as manager. In a move which many Pompey fans could see coming, the ex-Chelsea and Israel boss takes over the reins with Pompey sitting at the foot of the table, with a miserable return of only seven points from 12 games. Pompey, who endured the worst start to a Premier League season – losing their first seven games – face a massive task to climb out of their current predicament. They have lost the spine of their 2007/08 FA Cup winning side, with Defoe, Peter Crouch, Sulley Muntari and Sylvain Distin all moving on to pastures new. Pompey have found it difficult to replace the lost quality, bringing in proven Championship level players in Tommy Smith and Danny Webber to bolster the squad, but Championship players are not what they need. Frederic Piquionne and Aruna Dindane have joined the Portsmouth attack, but both look erratic as opposed to lethal.
Many clubs who are currently out of the relegation picture will be keen not to be dragged into the dogfight and remain anonymous in mid-table. Despite their 9-1 defeat to Spurs, Wigan should be safe. Roberto Martinez is a bright young manager who will eventually turn Wigan into a good footballing unit. Burnley’s brilliant home form has seen them make a flying start to Premier League life, with Owen Coyle having added hardly any players to the team that won promotion from the Championship last season. However, their inability to stop conceding goals away from home is a worry and with only one point to show from their efforts away from Turf Moor, any dip in their home fortunes will surely see them in the thick of the fight.
At this stage, it is anyone’s guess as to who will recover, and whose form will plummet to enforce the dreaded plunge into the Football League. Some, however, are in far more danger than others.