Mind over matter: what it will take for Norwich to avoid the drop

PUBLISHED: 17:49 14 June 2020 | UPDATED: 17:49 14 June 2020

It's been a while - Norwich players at the end of their last Premier League game, in March, at Sheffield
 United Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

It's been a while - Norwich players at the end of their last Premier League game, in March, at Sheffield United Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Paul Chesterton

Head of sport Chris Lakey looks at the teams in the relegation battle – and what it will take to stay up

Thinking man's game - Daniel Farke has a huge job ahead to keep City in the top flight Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdThinking man's game - Daniel Farke has a huge job ahead to keep City in the top flight Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

And then there were six...

Six men whose sole focus is on keeping their team in the Premier League... and for Daniel Farke, the added responsibility of an FA Cup quarter-final which could prove to be an unwanted sideshow, or one of the best motivational tools he could wish for.

Clutching at straws? Perhaps. But when you’re bottom of the table, anything will do, even if you are supposedly “the best bottom of the league team” that pundit Danny Murphy has ever seen.

The circumstances in which the bottom six will play out their Premier League season – the mental puzzles of playing in front of empty stands, the shortened preparation for the mini season, and the ever-present worry of Covid-19 – do perhaps put them on a level playing ground. Can you look at their ‘current’ form and use it as a guide for what is to come? No.

Can Dean Smith, left, and coach John Terry keep Aston Villa in the Premier League? Picture: PACan Dean Smith, left, and coach John Terry keep Aston Villa in the Premier League? Picture: PA

The key to beginning again after a three-month absence of activity isn’t just to hit the ground running. The key is to come out a much different team, not in terms of personnel, but in terms of belief. Which is why the six men - Graham Potter, David Moyes, Nigel Pearson, Eddie Howe, Dean Smith and Farke carry so much responsibility. The players can pluck excuses out of the air about playing in such difficult circumstances, but not managers. They will still carry the can.

This is about survival of the mentally fittest, players who were signed not just because of their footballing talent, but their attitude and their ability to see their way out of a crisis. That’s the stuff we can’t see. The rest is the nuts and bolts of football.

So who’s in the mire - and who’s going to get out?

Brighton (15)

Without a win in 2020, they are just two points above the drop zone and remaining home games against Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Newcastle will surely make them outsiders to stay up.

Remaining games: Sat June 20, Arsenal (h); Tues June 23, Leicester (a); Tues June 30, Man Utd (h); Sat July 4, Norwich (a); Wed July 8, Liverpool (h); Sat July 11, Man City (h); Wed July 15, Southampton (a); Sat July 18, Newcastle (h); Sun July 26, Burnley (a).

Prediction: Down

West Ham (16)

Out of the relegation zone only on goal difference, it is little surprise that West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady led the early calls to null and void the season. Their fate might be decided in the final four games, where they play Norwich, Watford and Aston Villa.

Remaining games: Sat June 20, Wolves (h); Tues June 23, Tottenham (a); Wed July 1, Chelsea (h); Sat July 4, Newcastle (a); Wed July 8, Burnley (h); Sat July 11, Norwich (a); Wed July 15, Watford (h); Sat July 18, Man Utd (a); Sun July 26, Aston Villa (h).

Prediction: Staying up

Watford (17)

A 3-0 walloping of Liverpool aside, their bounce under Nigel Pearson was beginning to wane and they are in deep trouble. Need to win home games against Southampton, Norwich and Newcastle – although they end with games against Manchester City and Arsenal.

Remaining games: Sat June 20, Leicester (h); Thurs June 25, Burnley (a); Sun June 28, Southampton (h); Sat July 4, Chelsea (a); Wed July 8, Norwich (h); Sat July 11, Newcastle (h); Wed July 15, West Ham (a); Sat July 18, Man City (h); Sun July 26, Arsenal (a).

Prediction: Staying up

Bournemouth (18)

They still have a lot of the big guns to play - including both Manchester clubs and Tottenham - so it is not going to be easy to maintain their Premier League status.

Remaining games: Sat Jun 20, Crystal Palace (h); Wed June 24, Wolves (a); Wed July 1, Newcastle (h); Sat July 4, Man Utd (a); Wed July 8, Tottenham (h); Sat July 11, Leicester (h); Wed July 15, Man City (a); Sat July 18, Southampton (h); Sun July 26, Everton (a).

Prediction: Staying up

Aston Villa (19)

Never has a game in hand caused as much debate as Aston Villa’s, which seemed crucial to any talk of PPG finishes. If they win their extra match against Sheffield United - which kicks-off the resumption on Wednesday - they will be out of the bottom three.

Remaining games: Wed June 17, Sheff Utd (h), Sun June 21, Chelsea (h); Wed June 24, Newcastle (a); Sat June 27, Wolves (h); Sat July 4, Liverpool (a); Wed July 8, Man Utd (h); Sat July 11, Crystal Palace (h); Wed July 15, Everton (a); Sat July 18, Arsenal (h); Sun July 26, West Ham (a).

Prediction: Down.

Norwich (20)

Six points from safety, but bigger deficits have been overturned and the break was an opportunity to hit the reset button and have a real go on resumption. Home games against Southampton - their first back - Everton, Brighton, West Ham and Burnley are going key.

Remaining games: Friday, June 19 Southampton (h); Wed June 24 Everton (h); Wed July 1, Arsenal (a); Sat July 4, Brighton (h); Wed July 8, Watford (a); Sat July 11, West Ham (h); Wed July 15, Chelsea (a); Sat July 18, Burnley (h); Sun July 26, Man City (a).

Prediction: Down

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