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The relegation zone: What’s next for the Premier League’s losers

Premier League

The 2017/18 Premier League season wrapped up this past Sunday with as much fanfare here in the States as NBC/Universal could muster. Manchester City ran away with the league title, rampaging through the fixture list practically unopposed to finish with 100 points, 18 ahead of Man United. Most of the other drama had played out in the weeks beforehand, with only Chelsea’s spot in the top four (a spot that the Blues fumbled in spectacular fashion with a 3-0 loss to Newcastle,) and Swansea’s last desperate chance to catch Southampton at stake. Still, NBC pulled out all the stops, blanketing the cable dial with live coverage of every match to celebrate another season of the most popular league in the world.

Man City’s domination of the top of the table certainly drained some luster from the season, but there were still some great stories. Liverpool introduced the world to the Egyptian whirlwind Mohamed Salah, who led the league with 32 goals and will get one more chance to shine in the Champions League final against Real Madrid next Saturday.

The FA Cup saw a quarterfinal match between almost relegated Southampton and giant killer Wigan Athletic FC. In only their third ever Premier League season Burnley will be heading to Europe, their 7th place finish qualifying the Clarets for next year’s Europa League. And for the first time since 2012 all three of last year’s promoted teams, Huddersfield, Newcastle and Brighton Hove Albion hung on to top-flight status. Good news for them, bad news for three storied franchises who will compete next year for the Championship instead of the fancy Barclays trophy.

Swansea takes a dive

The Swans had a slim lifeline going into the weekend, needing to beat Stoke City by many goals whilst Southampton lost and surrendered many goals to Man City. Neither of those things happened, so the first Welsh team to compete in the Premier League will trade places with the second, Cardiff City. This ended a six-year run in the top flight for the Swans. Never really threatening to crack the top half of the table, the Swans limped to the finish with five straight losses. The high point of the season was a 3-1 February upset of Arsenal, then a 4-1 thrashing of West Ham in front of the home fans to begin March got hopes up. But the victory over the Hammers was the last time they would smell success.

Swansea heads into next year without their longest serving veteran, as Leon Britten hangs up his cleats after 16 seasons and 537 appearances for the club. Korean international Ki Sung-Yueng’s contract has expired and he has already announced his intention to move on. That still leaves exciting young forwards in Jordan and Andre Ayew, plus Tammy Abraham to build around. Keep two of those three and add some better recruiting and the Swans could get back to getting pummelled by Liverpool fairly quickly.

Stoke City Collapses

Premier League
Peter Crouch is tall/ Swansea

Stoke City is in trouble. They have been in the Premier League since 2008, never finishing higher than ninth but acquitting themselves honorably for a mid-table team. This year the bottom fell out.

The Potters tied with West Ham for the most goals conceded despite keeper Jack Butland leading the league in saves. Butland and their best player, attacking midfielder Xherdan Shaquiri are too good to be playing in the Championship and are already drawing feelers from teams with bigger checkbooks. The best of the rest of the team is either on the wrong side of 30 like Mame Diouf or Big Bird impersonator Peter Crouch or are young and unproven like Spaniard Jese Rodriguez.

This team could have its entire identity stripped away when the transfer window opens this Thursday.

West Brom, too little too late

Premier League
Darren Moore/ BeIn Sports

The hottest team in the Premier League for the last 6 weeks of the year wasn’t inevitable champion Man City or Champions League contender Liverpool, it was the cellar-dwelling West Bromwich Albion Baggies. They finished on a tear, picking up 11 points in the standings over the last six matches after Darren Moore was tabbed to bring an end to the disastrous tenure of Alan Pardew, who was brought in after Tony Pulis was sacked in November.

Neither Pulis nor Pardew appeared to inspire the squad, and both were stultifyingly conservative. Forwards Solomon Rondon and Jay Rodriguez often found themselves with no support after chasing down long passes. Moore tightened up the passing game, getting wide midfielders James McClean and Matt Phillips more involved downfield and keeping everyone focused, avoiding late concessions that had plagued them in the winter.

Like both of their fellow relegated teams, the Baggies stand to lose some of there top talent next season. Rondon and Rodriguez are going to be too expensive for a rebuilding team to keep. But I’m more optimistic about their chances of bouncing back quickly. A lot of the changes we’ll be seeing at the Hawthorns were likely to happen even if the Baggies had clawed their way out of the zone. Polish midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak never fit in, and January transfer addition Daniel Sturridge failed to impact the lineup. But replacements lurk in Oliver Burke and Sam Field and if they retain Moore there’s reason to believe that the true talent level of the team is closer to the side that beat Spurs and Man U in the last month than the side that slogged through Pardew’s tenure.

They are also my adopted team so I’m not completely objective.

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