As most sports leagues are into the second half of their respective schedules, attention has turned to playoff races in the NHL, NBA, and keeping an eye on the bubble in NCAA Basketball. While those are all fun and worth keeping an eye on, one of the closest, deepest battles going on is the race to avoid relegation in the Premier League.
Take a look at the Premier League’s standings after Tuesday afternoon’s matches:
Last-place Swansea City has beaten Liverpool and Arsenal in back-to-back games, to climb out of the relegation zone.
Updated SPI relegation projections from @FiveThirtyEight: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ https://t.co/jrgbhBrx4Ipic.twitter.com/gQWqEgPC4n
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 30, 2018
There are a whopping 10 teams within two games of each other , and eight teams within three points of each other, all trying to avoid those bottle three spots and relegation to the English Championship.
So while the top of the table has been trash with Manchester City running away for the title, the bottom half, and even all the way up to ninth place, where Everton has 28 points, and 10th place West Ham has 27, can’t be completely ruled out of possibly being relegated, is insanity that changes every single day there are matches.
Swansea were in dead last two games ago, but thanks to back-to-back wins over European contenders Arsenal and Liverpool, the Swans have jumped over three teams and are out of relegation for the moment. Literally any sort of hot or cold streak at this time of the year could send you vaulting up into safety, or tumbling down into those dreaded bottom-three spots.
Not to beat this horse or to make this about MLS, but this is a perfect example of how having relegation in a league can still make for an exciting season, even if one team is running away with the championship.
As we noted before, every week the standings change and it seems like different teams are in the bottom three. And it’s insane to think that teams in 9th, 10th, and 11th, which are normally well above being relegated when the season ends, are still having to sweat out the season and keep an eye on the rear-view mirror to ensure they don’t have a lapse that brings them back to the pack.
And best of all, they’re playing to avoid the bottom three for actual reasons. This isn’t like the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes tanking to try to get a top draft pick that potentially turns their franchise around. These teams are playing to stay in the most recognized and richest soccer league in the world, where falling out of it could mean a MASSIVE loss in dollars for the next season. It also makes what would be a terrible game in the NBA or NHL, say the Nets against the Knicks, an extremely relevant game that could be the difference between one team staying alive or sinking to a lower league.
So while the top of the table may already be decided, the bottom of the Premier League table and those fighting to stay up is the deepest, most interesting battle sports has seen in a long while.