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Premier League: fans’ verdicts on the £8bn battle for survival

This is the year it really pays to stay up.

Last season, all but three of the 20 Premier League clubs made it on to world football’s elite top-30 rich list. From next season, not one of them will miss out. No wonder this year’s relegation-threatened owners are looking so jumpy.

The new TV deal – finalised last February and kicking in next season – will make Europe’s richest league breathtakingly richer still. While 2012’s rights sale raised £3.018bn – a 70% rise on the previous total – the latest auction ended with another 70% hike, with £5.136bn squeezed out of Sky and BT. Overseas rights will take that haul closer to £8bn.

The impact will be startling. Where last season’s bottom club, QPR, earned £68m for their efforts, the side finishing last next season will receive at least £100m – matching what Chelsea made for winning the 2015 title. Next season’s champions will receive at least £150m – excluding the extra income paid to clubs who host more live TV matches.

The jackpot on offer to the lucky 20 sides who are still involved when next season kicks off helps explain the frantic January spending among some of this year’s most threatened clubs. £90m of the £175m spent on transfers was paid out by the bottom six – compared to £20m spent the previous January. Newcastle, Norwich and Watford were the biggest gross spenders, accounting for 40% of the total.

Similarly, spending by the top six in the Championship accounted for 70% of that division’s outlay as owners gambled on securing a slice of next season’s bonanza.

Among other factors increasing the pressure to claim a place is that from next season the safety net for relegated sides will also be vastly more generous. Parachute payments will soar beyond the current £64m spread over four years, with the new amount paid over three – 55% of the equal share of broadcast revenue in the first year after relegation, 45% the following year and 20% in year three.

Clubs relegated after a single season, though, will not receive the full pay-out in future, with the year three payment eliminated.

The wider consequences of the 70% income hike remain to be seen. With Sky paying an average of £10.8m for each of their 126 games, wages and agents’ fees are likely to increase at a similar rate, even as clubs continue to resist reducing ticket prices for fans, and to balk at paying all employees the living wage.

When the deal was announced last year, the former Spurs chairman Alan Sugar told fans to watch out for “the prune juice effect … The money goes in one end, and comes out the other.”

Crystal Palace, 13th, 32pts – Chris Waters, @clapham_grand

Are you going down? No. Surely not. Collapsing from fifth at New Year to relegation would eclipse even the most spectacular of recent Palace implosions. Still, the doubts can only be laid to rest once we’ve hit the magic 40-point mark.

Who has let you down? It’s hard to look past the strikers. Just one goal between them before Emmanuel Adebayor joined says it all. Elsewhere, Jason Puncheon has struggled, and Wayne Hennessey seems undroppable despite various howlers.

Is the manager to blame? It’s difficult to say. Newcastle fans warned Pardew was a streaky manager, and so it has proved, with an apparent lack of a Plan B to change formation and players. The lack of activity in the January transfer window may prove costly. Primarily, though, injuries have killed our season. Long-term problems for Bolasie, Wickham, Gayle, Sako, Chamakh, McArthur, Puncheon, Jedinak and Ledley have pulled the team apart. Add the inexcusable three-match bans for Wickham and Souaré, and you have a shadow of the side that was so rampant before Christmas.

If the worst happens, would you bounce straight back? On paper, if we kept 90% of the squad, we’d go straight back up with over 100 points. But the Championship rarely works like that. It’s a battle.

What would you miss about the top flight? We’d miss the blanket media coverage and the ability to buy top talent such as Cabaye. We definitely wouldn’t miss some of the outrageous away ticket prices and stupid kick-off times.

And the bottom three, in order? 18. Newcastle; 19. Norwich; 20. Villa.

West Bromwich Albion, 14th, 32pts – Richard Jefferson, @richbaggie

Are you going down? Simple answer to this one: no. Why not? Tony Pulis. Getting relegated just isn’t part of his make-up.

Who has let you down? Pretty much all the strike force have failed to deliver, though much of that is down to them having to live off scraps. The issue is the tactics we’re relying on: we create very little, mainly because the players we’d like to provide the chances are sitting so deep, under instructions to help the defence. Exacerbating that has been the fact that our crossing from any decent wing play has regularly been atrocious. And finally, the Saido Berahino sulk factor has hung over us for much of the season.

Is the manager to blame? Is the league position really so bad? We’re currently on 32 points and in 14th place. I’d say that is a slightly above-par score for our limited squad, so it’d be hard to criticise the manager for the position. Criticism of how we have got to 32 points is another debate entirely, though.

If the worst happens, would you bounce straight back? We’d have a decent chance, but we’d need a bigger squad than we have now to increase the chances. The Championship is absolutely brutal in terms of the number of games.

What would you miss about the top flight? I’d be pleased to see the back of the awful atmosphere at nearly every Premiership ground I’ve travelled to – but as for what we’d miss most, it has to be the derby games against Aston Villa … Oh, hang on…

And the bottom three, in order? 18. Norwich; 19. Newcastle; 20. Villa.

Bournemouth, 15th, 28pts – Peter Bell, @PeterBell19

Are you going down?

No. We rather like being in the Premier League. Eddie Howe will get the very last ounce of effort and quality out of this team and will work harder than any of the other managers down at the wrong end of the table to get the club over the line.

Who has let you down?

Steve Cook, Simon Francis and Artur Boruc have struggled at times this season – but they have also had some exceptional games, too. Many of the players have made individual mistakes but they are making fewer now and are growing into the Premier League.

Is the manager to blame?

Not at all. He has used the funds that have been made available to him wisely and strengthened the squad where he can, while also overcoming so many injuries to key players. Despite everything he has had to contend with, he has led us to wins over big teams including Chelsea and Manchester United. How can you fault that?

If the worst happens, would you bounce straight back? Three things would be essential: more hard work from the players, an injury‑free season, and keeping hold of Eddie Howe.

What would you miss about the top flight? I’d miss the media coverage and the buzz that comes from hearing and seeing so much about the club in the national media. What wouldn’t we miss if the worst happened? High ticket prices – and those occasional heavy defeats are something I’m not overly fond of.

And the bottom three, in order?

18. Newcastle; 19. Norwich; 20. Villa.

Swansea City, 16th, 27pts – Kevin Elphick, swansea.vitalfootball.co.uk

Are you going down? No. It’ll be very close but I’d like to think the teams below us won’t find a way to close the gap. We’ve got a tough run-in – arguably the toughest out of the bottom six – but we actually tend to perform better against the better opposition. It’s so close that it could be goal difference that splits the sides, and ours is better than that of Norwich, Newcastle and Sunderland.

Who has let you down? Bafétimbi Gomis and Jefferson Montero have both struggled. Gomis scored in his first four games and Montero was playing brilliantly too – then suddenly we hit the buffers and have been on the slide ever since. Gomis has gone from our regular lone striker to an occasional sub, while Montero didn’t even make the bench for the game against Southampton.

Is the manager to blame? The sacked Garry Monk takes some of the blame, but what really held us back was the poor summer transfer business. We spent £18m on players – it’s just not enough to survive at this level.

If the worst happens, would you bounce straight back? It’d be tough. The Championship is becoming more competitive and we’d need an overhaul.

What would you miss about the top flight? I’d miss that sense of pride of being a top-flight club – and the ridiculous TV money, of course. You also can’t ignore the impact Premier League football has had on the local economy here. On the other hand, I definitely wouldn’t miss all the hype, the ridiculous ticket prices – and maybe we’d get a better standard of referee in the Championship, too …

And the bottom three, in order? 18. Newcastle; 19. Norwich; 20. Villa.

Norwich City, 17th, 24pts – Gary Gowers, NorwichCity.MyFootballWriter.com

Are you going down?

Logic, form and the bookies suggest we are, and it’s hard to find a valid argument against. But … while our achilles heel has been a soft centre and propensity to concede sloppy goals, when we play on the front foot we can hurt teams. So, courtesy of my yellow-and-green-tinted specs I’m tipping us for safety … just.

Who has let you down?

Youssouf Mulumbu has been a disappointment – since being injured in the final game of pre-season he has been playing catch-up. The goalkeeping position has also been a problem, but the biggest issue has been an ever-changing and error-ridden back four.

Is the manager to blame?

By his own admission Alex Neil isn’t blameless, but he’s a quick learner. After a wobble, during which he veered away from his instincts, he has reverted back to his default setting: a possession-based game with the onus on attack. However, his squad’s overall quality reflects the club’s position as the division’s 20th richest.

If the worst happens, would you bounce straight back? If we kept hold of the best players – Robbie Brady most notably – and kept faith with the manager, we’d give ourselves a chance.

What would you miss about the top flight? The opportunity to see my team lock horns with the very best. But, among other things, I’d be glad to see the back of losing nearly every week, being paid lip service by Match of the Day, ever-changing kick-off times and generally being seen as gatecrashers at a fancy party.

And the bottom three, in order?

18. Sunderland; 19. Swansea; 20. Villa.

Newcastle United, 18th, 24pts – Richard and David Holmes, Observer readers

Are you going down? On our current trajectory and with Steve McClaren at the helm, yes. Our away form has been woeful, we’ve struggled to put a string of wins together and too many players aren’t up for the battle. We’ve been flirting with relegation for years - the drop wouldn’t come as any surprise.

Who has let you down? The fact that Florian Thauvin was sent out on loan after half a season tells its own story; Fabricio Coloccini, sadly, is long past his best; and Moussa Sissoko and Georginio Wijnaldum are sublime in some games, anonymous in others.

Is the manager to blame? He’s not the right man for the job – but who is? Ultimately, we’ve been undermined by a transfer policy that has put sell-on value above experience and youth before character. What good is yet another “promising” French midfielder when we can’t defend or score goals? For years, a seasoned centre-half, solid left-back and proven goalscorer should have been priorities.

If the worst happens, would you bounce straight back? We’d need some players with determination and pride, and Chris Hughton wouldn’t go amiss either. It’d take a huge rebuild.

What would you miss about the top flight? Very little. Definitely not the arrogant fans of “big” clubs (United and Liverpool especially), or the legions of overpaid, ostentatious footballers whose closest brush with austerity is downsizing from a mansion to a penthouse. But there would be some grim consequences – inevitable job losses at St James’ Park (again) and a negative impact on the local economy.

And the bottom three, in order? 18. Norwich; 19. Newcastle; 20. Villa.

Sunderland, 19th, 23pts – Pete Sixsmith, SalutSunderland.com

Are you going down? It’s a hard call. We’re in this position due to too many poor performances between August and January, and too many players who’ve had enough of constant struggle. But we also have some positives: our newish manager has given us some impetus by bringing in new faces who haven’t come to England to play in the second tier. On balance, I’ll back us to stay up. We’re well used to relegation battles.

Who has let you down? Of the players brought in by Dick Advocaat and Lee Congerton, Jeremain Lens never really got going, Seb Coates is an honest plodder, Younès Kaboul has been injured (gasps of surprise from Tottenham fans) and Adam Matthews is playing the part of the Forgotten Man. Of those already there, Jack Rodwell has either been in the treatment room with Kaboul or out of the squad like Matthews, while Billy Jones has matched Coates plod for plod.

Is the manager to blame? He’s not entirely blameless. He has made some poor team selections (three at the back at Goodison – lost 6-2) and some poor substitutions, but Sam has shown his mettle in the transfer window.

If the worst happens, would you bounce straight back? We’d need to keep Allardyce and his January signings; we’d need a strong start to what is an exhausting programme; and we’d need a good satnav to take us to places we have not been to for a while.

What would you miss about the top flight? There’s oh so much to miss … the Premier League theme music, the very high refereeing standards, the total lack of hyperbole …

And the bottom three, in order? 18. Swansea; 19. Norwich; 20. Villa

Aston Villa, 20th, 16pts – Jonathan Pritchard, Observer reader

Are you going down? That’s been obvious since we lost to Watford in November but the decline has been lengthy and this year’s Russian roulette gun had six bullets. The buck stops with the absent owner and his pitiful CEO, who have put in place a structure that simply doesn’t work, and then manned it with buffoons. That they’ve chosen poor managers and overseen a ridiculous player recruitment policy is hardly surprising. And nor is the on-pitch outcome: a team that, without serious investment, will struggle to survive next year in the Championship. Yet the CEO has the audacity/stupidity to suggest we’re building something special here, and the chairman charmingly refers to us as customers. The worst thing is that the people who are really passionate about the club, the fans, have had enough of their love being unrequited and it has turned to indifference via hate. We don’t want pity, I don’t think we’re any better or worse than any other set of supporters, but any club’s followers deserve better than this.

Who has let you down? It’s easier and kinder to name those who haven’t. Ayew, Okore (maybe) and that’s about it.

Is the manager to blame? Sherwood arguably deserved longer. Garde is a mute “oui” man who is now just protecting his CV by staying aloof and avoiding culpability. He’ll be gone soon.

If the worst happens, would you bounce straight back? Yes, given £100m and a proper manager.

What would you miss about the top flight? I’ll miss the feeling that each game actually matters, but I’m looking forward to some new grounds, some tackling and fewer half-and-half scarves.

And the bottom three, in order? 18. Norwich; 19. Sunderland; 20. Villa.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Observer Sport and the Observer fans' network, for The Observer on Saturday 20th February 2016 23.37 Europe/London

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