It’s that tragic time of the year again where the English Premier League is nearing a close; only nine rounds remain before the most important offseason in recent history.
Relegation has been amplified by the influx of money from the battle for television rights between Sky Sports and BT Sport.
The flood of cash means the lowest team in the Premier League could earn £99 million and the champions will pocket £150 million.
With only a handful of fixtures remaining, Aston Villa, Newcastle, Norwich and Sunderland are the most likely to make the drop.
Aston Villa has had one of the worst seasons in their club’s illustrious history. Early in their campaign Villa lost integral players Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph. This, alongside losing young gun Jack Grealish, has made for an extremely tough season for players and fans.
Manager Reme Garde, with the worst win ratio of any manager at the club, has lost the supporters’ faith since the ill-spent £50 million pounds he received from the transfers of Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke.
Garde is in danger of losing his job at the end of the season and told The Mirror the whole club is feeling the pressure.
“I am not responsible for everything in this football club,” Garde said.
“I have got some responsibilities and they are huge but not to speak about the chief executive or chairman at this football club.”
From the outside, it certainly seems as if the players and manager are resigned to the fact they will be the first team into the Championship.
After Aston Villa, Newcastle is the most likely to go down at this stage. The Geordies have shown glimpses of their quality but have not been able to pick up enough wins after Christmas and are a shadow of the club they once were.
Plainly, Newcastle has lost their soul.
Their 2015/16 sides looks a far cry from the competitive, emotion-driven side of the 2000s. The Geordies successfully fought off relegation in 2013 and ’15, but it seems it will be third time unlucky this season.
Newcastle has attempted to make amends by hiring former Liverpool and Real Madrid manager Rafa Benetiz.
Outgoing Newcastle manager Steve McClaren said his soon-to-be former side is wary of the drop.
“We played like we’re not going to stay up. The crowd know it, we know it,” McClaren said.
“Accept the criticism grow stronger and become a man and get out there and play.”
These lacklustre comments show the difference from the once-fiery Newcastle to the shell of its former self.
It’s difficult to imagine a side that once contained firebrands Joey Barton and Craig Bellamy would be lacking spark, but times have changed for the men in black and white.
Norwich might manage to edge their way out of the relegation battle with fixtures against Newcastle, West Brom and Sunderland in the next few rounds.
The Canaries have lost eight of their last nine matches and this rubs further salt into the wound after acquiring Patrick Bamford, Steven Naismith, Timm Klose in the January transfer window.
Defender Ryan Bennett told The Guardian it’s a simple solution to avoid relegation.
“We need to find the recipe to win matches; to score goals and get points,” Bennett said.
“That’s it, it doesn’t matter how we do it, we just need to keep going. We’re putting a lot of effort into games but that counts for nothing when you’re losing.”
Another side in the mix is Sunderland, the Black Cats are currently tied on points with Norwich with one game in hand. The Northerners have an ace up their sleeve in manager Sam Allardyce, who loves a relegation battle more than most.
The torturous drop to the Championship will hurt players, fans and staff at these club, which have deep historical roots. But it might be the kick in the guts needed to give these clubs time to recover and rebuild from their recent decline.