With the destination of the Premier League title a foregone conclusion with nine games to go, the only key battles left are who makes the top four and who will stay up/go down.
Fulham and Newcastle go head-to-head
After Brighton’s 3-0 thumping of Newcastle last weekend, it looks like it will be between Fulham and Newcastle for the final relegation spot. The relegation battle becomes even more intriguing when you mention that Newcastle visit Craven Cottage on the final day of the season.
The two clubs couldn’t be more different. Fulham are a modest club based in West London surrounded by London clubs who generate more of the spotlight.
Newcastle are the opposite. A historic side where the question is always: when are they going to get into the top six again, where they perhaps belong?
Steve Bruce and Scott Parker are managerial opposites; Parker a fresh face who talks with great enthusiasm and passion, while Bruce is mellow and realistic.
Just two points separate the sides with Newcastle on 28 points and Fulham on 26. The Geordies also have a game in hand and are favourites to survive.
It’s been a steep decline for Newcastle, who have been dragged into a relegation battle with just wins from their last 18 league games.
It has been nothing short of dismal. Yes, there have been injuries to Allan Saint-Maximin, Miguel Almiron and Callum Wilson but the football is joyless, pedestrian and lacking any purpose.
Newcastle rank in the bottom three for shots faced per game and touches in the opposition box, demonstrating the problems that Bruce faces at both ends of the pitch.
There was a chance to bring in a new manager during the international break with fans overwhelmingly in favour of a change, but owner Mike Ashley is behind the 60 year-old.
Newcastle have nine games to save their season and at least do the bare minimum of what was expected this season.
Bruce spoke of challenging for the top-half at the beginning of the season, but then had to backtrack on those ambitions just months later when he voiced his optimism of keeping Newcastle in the division.
Saint-Maximin and Wilson should be fit for the run-in, providing the Black and Whites with creativity and goals. Wilson is the top scorer with 10 league goals; he has scored 35% of their goals this season.
Newcastle’s final nine games this season:
Tottenham Hotspur (H)
West Ham (H)
Man City (H)
Sheffield United (H)
Fulham’s situation is markedly different. They were promoted via the play-offs on the 4th of August and then just had over five weeks to get ready for a Premier League season with plenty of challenges.
Scott Parker’s side lost their first four games, conceding 11 goals and looked doomed. They were written off by many. Defenders such as Denis Odoi, Tim Ream and Michael Hector did an admirable job in the Championship but were totally exposed in the Premier League.
Fulham went on a late spending spree to acquire Joachim Andersen, Tosin Adarabioyo, Ademola Lookman amongst others. They rapidly improved the side and Fulham became competent and harder to beat.
A problem has been scoring goals but Fulham went from a soft touch to a more cohesive unit. It has been an uphill task to recover the points that they lost but a win at Anfield, for example, was a fantastic team performance and showcased the merits of Parker’s approach.
An issue has been turning draws into wins. Fulham have drawn 11 out of 30 games and plenty of those have been frustrating, in which the Whites have created opportunities but not made the most of them.
Bobby Reid is their top scorer with seven, and surprisingly a player of Alexander Mitrovic’s pedigree has barely featured. The London club have won just five matches this season and only three since November. A 2-1 defeat to Leeds before the international break was a tough one to take for Parker.
There are eight matches to come for Fulham, and despite not wanting to look forward, Fulham would probably take a six-pointer on the final day to stay up.
Fulham’s final eight games:
Aston Villa (A)
Man United (A)
Featured image: Steve Bruce, manager of Newcastle United looks on during the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)