Three clubs in basement scrap – two to go down

Smith with one of his trusted warriors, Belgian midfielder Youri Tielemans. Can Leicester survive the chop tomorrow? — AFP

THE fight to stave off relegation and remain in the Premier League has come down to the last day of the season, with two of three teams certain to go down.

The trio scrambling for their lives are Everton, Leicester City and Leeds United, who are 17th, 18th and 19th, respectively.

Southampton, who are at the foot of the table, have already been consigned to the chop.

Everton take on Bournemouth and look like the best bet of the three to safely negotiate their survival for Premier League football next season.

They have 33 points and a goal difference of minus 24, while Leicester and Leeds both have 31, with goal differences of minus 18 and minus 27 respectively. Leicester are at home to West Ham, and Leeds are at home to Tottenham.

It is often said that the clubs struggling to escape relegation play above and beyond the call of duty, upsetting the form book in the process.

But Leicester and Leeds, on paper at least, look like they left it a wee bit too late, coming up against London teams who themselves will be keen on finishing with a flourish.

Spurs have had a roller coaster ride of a season, marked by the unceremonious departure of the well-regarded Antonio Conte midway through the campaign.

They lost their last two fixtures, but with all the talk surrounding a possible move to Man United for their captain and England striker Harry Kane, they might yet put on a display of note and vanquish their hosts.

Leeds have conceded the most goals in the Premiership this campaign (74).

Sam Allardyce might be granted keys to the city of Leeds if he were to drag them to safety.

Big Sam was called in to steer them away from relegation following the sacking of Javi Gracia with four games to go. They were 17th at the time, and they look a lot more frail right now.

Leicester are also expected to drop into the Championship division, just seven seasons after they so famously beat the odds and won the league title in 2016 under Claudio Ranieri.

Dean Smith, brought in last month to save the Foxes, knows that even a victory over the Hammers might not be enough to keep them up.

He took the job with eight matches left and was joined by assistant managers Craig Shakespeare and John Terry. But even if they fail to deliver survival, one can hardly blame Smith.

Leicester, one could say, have lost one too many of their star players since they won the title. And despite Brendan Rodgers doing some fine work earlier, they are nowhere as strong as they should be.

Among the stars who have left the King Power Stadium are N’Golo Kanté (for Chelsea) and Riyad Mahrez (Man City), immediately after they won the league, and Wesley Fofana (Chelsea) more recently.

These players were not replaced, and now Leicester are paying the price.

Unless Smith can somehow conjure up something special against David Moyes’ side, they will be in the Championship division next season.

What might work in Leicester’s favour, and it is not a given, is that with their league status assured, Moyes might not risk featuring all his star players.

They are in the Europa Conference League final, where they will take on Fiorentina at the Eden Arena in Prague, Czech Republic, on June 7.

Indeed, nothing can be taken for granted in this basement scrap. But what we do know is that it should be a rather entertaining way to see the season out.

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