History suggests at least one of the Premier League’s current bottom three will avoid relegation – but Sheffield United must overturn imposing odds.
Since the top flight was reduced to 20 clubs in 1995, only three teams have survived after being bottom at Christmas.
Just over half of the teams in 19th place on December 25 have gone down – West Brom, under new manager Sam Allardyce, occupy that spot – but there is encouragement for Fulham with just over a third of the teams in 18th going on to be relegated, while only twice have all of the Christmas bottom three slipped away.
Mountain to climb for Blades
Twenty-two out of 25 means 88 per cent of the teams bottom at Christmas have been relegated, with the only survivors being West Brom in 2004, Sunderland in 2013 and Leicester in 2014.
None of those were in as bad a spot as the Blades, who have only two points from 14 games and are 10 below the safety line – Albion and Leicester were both five adrift, with Sunderland four points back.
Leicester’s recovery was remarkable – they finished 14th under Nigel Pearson, whose replacement Claudio Ranieri then had them top of the tree the following Christmas on their way to their shock title win.
The Baggies, however, were relegated next time around and though Sunderland survived three years, they then suffered back-to-back relegations and remain in League One to this day.
Since Leicester’s escape, Aston Villa, Hull, Swansea, Fulham and Watford have all failed to overturn the odds – though Villa and the Cottagers have returned to the top flight.
Looking further back, Nottingham Forest propped up the Christmas table in both 1996 and 1998 – as well as 1992, in the 22-team era – and finished bottom on each occasion. West Ham have also twice been relegated after being bottom at Christmas.
Hope for Fulham and West Brom
At least one of the Christmas bottom three has survived in every season except 2001-02, when Derby, Leicester and Ipswich went down, and 2012-13 when Wigan – 18th for the third Christmas in succession – QPR and Reading suffered the same fate.
But two of the three have gone down on 15 occasions, 60 per cent of the seasons in our sample, and West Brom will need to buck the recent trend.
The last three years have seen the bottom two at Christmas go down – with the Baggies themselves 19th in December 2017, followed by Huddersfield and Norwich.
But all three of the teams in 18th survived – Bournemouth in 2017-18, Burnley and then Villa last season – meaning just nine of the 25 teams 18th at Christmas have gone down.
That means a 64 per cent survival rate to offer hope to Scott Parker as Fulham bid to avoid another one-season stay, following 2018-19’s misadventure.
Thirteen out of 25 19th-placed sides at Christmas have gone on to be relegated, or 52 per cent – Allardyce will look to make that a perfect 50-50 split after this season.
Allardyce’s personal record also offers encouragement – he has never been relegated from the top flight, including three seasons in which his team were 19th at Christmas.
Bolton occupied that spot in December 2002, as did Blackburn in 2008. Sunderland, meanwhile, survived under Allardyce having been 19th at Christmas 2015 – but they were 18th the following Christmas under David Moyes and went on to be relegated.