Is relegation already three clubs from winless four?

Ian King
Burnley manager Sean Dyche is involved in another relegation battle

Four Premier League clubs have yet to register a win this season, but the race to avoid relegation might yet turn out to be extremely tight.

There were a few jeers and whistles around Turf Moor when the full-time whistle blew at the end of the clash between Burnley and Norwich City. It wasn’t that this had been an especially bad performance from the home side in this early-season relegation six-pointer, rather that with Burnley having failed to win at home in the league since January, a home match against a team that had lost all six of their matches so far had taken on a ‘must-win’ status before a ball was even kicked.

But at times, it felt as though Burnley couldn’t buy a goal. Dwight McNeil mis-controlled the ball with the goal at his mercy. Jay Rodriguez, eight yards out, unmarked, and without a Premier League goal since February 13, swung at thin air. Matej Vydra (one of our losers this week) went in for a challenge with Tim Krul and found himself on the end of the Norwich goalkeeper’s fist, only for nothing to be given for the challenge. When things aren’t going your way, it can start to feel as though a conspiracy is among the factors keeping the ball out of the opposition net.

For Norwich, the point was a welcome relief after six straight defeats, but for Burnley this was a reminder that this might turn out to be quite a long winter. They’re not the only ones, either. The Premier League’s bottom four clubs have played 28 games between them so far this season and have failed to win a single game, having cumulatively scored 20 goals while conceding 53 in the race to avoid relegation. Newcastle and Norwich occupy the bottom two positions, having already conceded 32 goals between them, while Burnley and Southampton sit above them, with their more significant issues coming at the other end of the pitch. They’ve each scored just five goals from their seven matches.

At Burnley, a great deal of hope for this season is going to be resting on Maxwel Cornet. The Ivorian international signed from Lyon at the end of the transfer window and immediately impressed on making his debut from the substitutes bench against Arsenal, following that with a goal against Leicester City in his next appearance. But a knock that he picked up late in the Leicester game turned out to be a hamstring injury which kept him out of the Norwich game, and Burnley are now hoping that he will be fully recovered by the end of the international break.

But Turf Moor, at least, remains a happier place than St James’ Park, where Newcastle United live in the purgatory inflicted upon them by Mike Ashley. The team is as shapeless as ever, and switching to a five-man defence didn’t prevent another two goals being shipped and another defeat against Wolves. Fans were, yet again, less than impressed with their team’s performance. Manager Steve Bruce clings on to his position with the rumble of the club’s takeover battle continuing in the distance, but Callum Wilson is still injured and Bruce has become over-dependent on Allan Saint-Maximin’s goals to dig him out of the holes in which his team has fallen too readily.

Newcastle are kept off the bottom of the table by Norwich City. Norwich’s point at Burnley does at least give manager Daniel Farke something to build on after the international break. Their opening fixtures – Liverpool and Leicester at home, Manchester City and Arsenal away – were about as difficult as they could have expected, and the clean sheet at Burnley will be a relief to supporters who’d seen their team’s defence exhibit sieve-like qualities in their previous matches. They’re tiny increments, but at least at Carrow Road there are signs of progress, however small they might be.

The same might be said for the most surprising name to appear in the bottom four right now: Southampton. At Chelsea, they put in a reasonable performance, beaten only by two late goals after James Ward-Prowse, who’d brought them level from the penalty spot just a few minutes earlier, was sent off for a careless tackle on Jorginho with 13 minutes to play. It was a better performance than Chelsea probably expected from a team hovering just above the relegation places.

Southampton’s problems so far have come in front of goal. They’ve managed just two from open play so far this season, outnumbered by two Ward-Prowse penalties and a Fred own goal. It says something that they’ve scored twice as many goals in their two Carabao Cup matches against EFL opposition than they’ve managed from seven Premier League matches, but Southampton have also had a tough run of fixtures to start their season, and we’ll likely learn a lot more about whether this is a mere blip after the international break, when they play Leeds United, Burnley and Watford in successive league fixtures.

But these four clubs aren’t uniquely troubled. Leeds United beat Watford on Saturday but didn’t really tear anything up in doing so, and the Watford manager Xisco Munoz paid for the defeat with his job, despite the fact that Watford have picked up two league wins already this season, which is more than can be said for any of the teams below them in the Premier League table. With just six points separating Southampton in 17th place from Aston Villa in 10th, it remains possible that almost anybody in the bottom half of the table could yet find themselves being dragged into an unwelcome battle to avoid relegation.

The numbers, of course, don’t add up. Three of these 20 clubs have to face up to relegation come the end of the season, and the financial costs of doing so are huge. But the reason why there are still four clubs without a win might not even be about their ‘inferiority’. The number of Premier League draws decreased from 92 two seasons ago to 84 last time around, from 24% to 22%, but so far this season there have been 20 draws from 70 games in the Premier League, an increase to 28.5%, and this is reflected in the fact that no-one at the bottom of the table looks completely condemned just yet.

Even Norwich, with their solitary point, don’t quite look completely cast adrift yet. Their defence may currently be the Premier League’s most porous on paper, but eight of the 16 goals so far came from their first two matches against Liverpool and Manchester City, and the high number of draws across the division so far hints that the margins for clubs looking to avoid relegation could yet be extremely narrow. No matter how desperate things may already feel at the bottom of the Premier League for those on the inside looking out, this season’s race to avoid relegation still has a very long way to run indeed.