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English Premier League Relegation, Explained

While some squads are busily accumulating points, others must try to avoid falling into the “Relegation Zone.”

By Andrew Woodin
Nathan Collins of Burnley in tears after their defeat and relegation during the Premier League match between Burnley and Newcastle United at Turf Moor

As the English Premier League continues to rock and roll through its dynamic slate of festive fixtures, most clubs in the hunt for an EPL title are targeting marquis acquisitions in the January transfer window, yet others who can’t cough up oodles of money are merely hoping and praying that they don’t continue to slide into the dreaded bottom of the points table, where they are subject to the “Relegation Zone.”

For those burgeoning footy aficionados who aren’t quite sure what that means, here's why it’s important to follow in the EPL.

What is Premier League Relegation?

Relegation is the system in the Premier League by which the unfortunate three teams with the lowest amount of points at the end of the season drop down from England’s top flight to the second-tier division before a new season begins. At the start of the following year’s season, those three teams compete in what’s called the “Championship Division” of English football.

If there are more than three teams that all have the same tally of points, goal difference — a simple calculation between the total number of goals a team has scored subtracted by the total number of goals they surrendered — is used to determine which three of those teams will be relegated.

How Does Relegation Affect Teams in the EPL?

Ultimately, relegation is pejorative state that no team ever wants to find itself in. Not only does it mean a squad is knocked out of the top tier of English football, but relegation can also genuinely hurt a club’s reputation. This leaves teams vulnerable to potentially losing elite players, or, even worse, sacrificing major money from everything to sponsorships to highly lucrative broadcast television deals. When this happens, teams can quickly be in jeopardy of losing fans as well as finding themselves in the sticky situation of being unable to attract new players.

But just because a team is relegated doesn’t mean that it will never be able to right the ship and ascend back into the Premier League. In order for a relegated team to be promoted back up into the top flight, that club must either win its division or win its division playoffs. Those are the only two avenues for club promotion.

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Though every team in the EPL could be subject to relegation at some point, it’s often far more difficult for newer clubs to battle their way up into the top tier than it is for the more established legacy teams, who can sometimes spend their way out of the Relegation Zone. That’s why teams at this point in the season doggedly pursue making any and every move possible that might spare them from the unsavory embarrassment that accompanies relegation.

Which Teams Were Relegated Last Year, and Which Ones Are at Risk This Year?

Last year, Burnley, Watford, and Norwich City wound up in the bottom three spots and were subsequently relegated to the Championship Division. On the other hand, the teams that were newly promoted this year into the Premier League — Fulham, Nottingham Forest, and Bournemouth — are all desperately trying to cement their place in England’s top flight.

Bournemouth sacked its manager Scott Parker just four games into the season in the hope that change at the helm would stop the bleeding, but after dropping five of the last six games, the Cherries sit in the 14th spot and will likely fall even lower. Though Nottingham Forest can boast an impressive win over Liverpool earlier this season, the club’s nervously hovering in the second spot from the bottom and was just handed a frustrating 3-0 defeat by Manchester United. Predictions for which teams will be relegated this season show that Southampton currently has the greatest chance of being relegated at 64.14 percent, followed by Everton at 51.19 percent.    

Sadly, it’s hard to ever say that any good comes from being relegated. The downsides to being relegated are just too substantial. Just being associated with the Premier League is a massive privilege that comes with elevated income for each participating club, and those squads that are forced to drop down into the Championship division can only hope that their “parachute payments” — small payments from the Premier League to help relegated teams cope with income loss — provide enough of a bridge to keep viable players so they can retool and prepare to make a run at promotion.

Otherwise, the lonely state of footy purgatory is where they’ll remain.  

Which Premier League teams do you think will be relegated this season?

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