All across Europe, teams near the foot of their respective leagues are starting to panic as the prospect of relegation becomes more and more likely. Relegation is disastrous for any football club, but even more so in the current financial climate, as the loss in revenue can be crippling and it is not uncommon for teams to go into administration, or even go out of business after dropping out of their country’s top division. This season, there are several teams in real danger of relegation that you might not have expected to be back in August.
English Premier League: Fulham and Sunderland
Fulham and Sunderland are two of those teams that always flirt with relegation at some point in the season, but eventually the quality in their relatively expensive squads lifts them out of danger into a boring mid-table position. This season however, they have both been in trouble since the first day and are running out of time to sort things out.
After 13 years in the Premier League, which has included a run to the Europa League final and escaping relegation on the final day, Fulham look to have run out of steam and inspiration. A squad with players such as Dimitar Berbatov, Bryan Ruiz, Scott Parker and Lewis Holtby ought to be well clear, but some of those players have been accused of laziness and lacking the ‘fight’ for a relegation battle. As such, Barbatov and Ruiz were shipped out in January and they broke their transfer record to sign Konstantinos Mitroglou – who has gone on to make just two appearances. Sacking two managers also hasn’t helped with stability – Rene Meulensteen replaced Martin Jol in December, who only had 16 days of experience as the main man at a football club, and he was then replaced by notorious megalomaniac Felix Magath, the first German manager to take charge of a Premier League club. The Cottagers are currently five points from safety, but they are at a disadvantage because of their significantly worse goal difference, and have also player more games than the sides just outside the bottom three. As it stands, they look the most likely team to drop out.
Despite several magical moments provided by the on-loan striker Fabio Borini – including a late winner in the Tyne-Wear derby, a winning goal against Chelsea and putting the Black Cats ahead against Manchester City in the Capital One Cup final – Sunderland have had a very disappointing season. They took a big gamble in appointing the unpredictable Paolo Di Canio as boss, and it has backfired spectacularly. After splashing the cash on several little-known players from obscure foreign teams, he then fell out with his players and was sacked after just five games in which they mustered only one point. They appointed Gus Poyet to replace him, who had done well at Brighton in the Championship but results haven’t improved enough to lift them out of danger. They currently have home games remaining against fellow strugglers Swansea, West Brom and Cardiff, coupled with away games at Man Utd, Chelsea, Man City and Spurs, so they simply have to win their home games if they are to survive. Currently four points from safety, but with a game in hand on several of their rivals, they have shown this season that they can pull off a shock win when they need to – but will they be able to do enough?
Bundesliga: Hamburg and Stuttgart
Stuttgart and Hamburg are two of Germany’s biggest and most storied clubs, but they are both in danger of the drop. Stuttgart were Bundesliga champions as recently as 2007, while Hamburg have been in the Bundesliga since World War One, and have never been relegated from the top flight.
The five-time champions Stuttgart have missed only two seasons of the Bundesliga since it’s conception in 1963. They surrendered a two goal lead to lose to Dortmund at the weekend, and have only one win in 2014. They face Bayern, Schalke and Wolfsburg in their last six games, they need to get something from their next game against Freiburg to try and kickstart a comeback.
German legend Franz Beckanbauer has said it would be ‘unthinkable’ to see Hamburg in the Bundesliga 2, and with players like Rafael van der Vaart in their squad it would be a huge shock to see them go down for the first time in their history. They and Stuttgart are both only two points from safety, so they still have their future in their hands.
La Liga: Real Betis
After last season’s 7th placed finish and entry into the Europa League, Betis seemed to be heading in the right direction. It has all gone very badly wrong this season, following the sale of star man Benat and the long-term injury of star striker Ruben Castro. Popular manager Pepe Mel, who led the club out of the Segunda and into Europe was sacked, their President has recently resigned and they are still in administration. All the signs of a club in chaos. The only highlight of their season was a decent Europa League run, but that ended in heart breaking circumstances – a penalty shootout defeat to bitter city rivals Sevilla. A massive eight points from safety with seven games to play, if they were to escape the drop it would be one of the most dramatic turnarounds in football history – but they have been looking more like their old selves lately, so don’t right them off just yet.