The Premier League's relegation battle
The race at the top of the Premier League table appears to be down to just the two clubs from Manchester, but the race to avoid relegation has five teams within two points of the bottom. This weekend's matches could prove crucial, as four of the teams square off in two head-to-head matchups. Using ESPN's Soccer Power Index (SPI), we calculated each team's offensive and defensive ratings and simulated each matchup 10,000 times. Let's take a look at how the outcomes will affect each team's chance of being relegated at the end of the season.
Currently, SPI gives Bolton, QPR, Wolverhampton and Blackburn each between a 50.8 and 58.2 percent chance of being relegated at the end of the season. Other than cellar-dwellers Wigan, SPI does not currently give any other team above a 1 percent chance of relegation.
Queens Park Rangers at Bolton
(Saturday 7:30 a.m. ET, ESPN2 and ESPN3)
Bolton started 2012 off strong, recording an away win at Everton and followed with a 3-1 win over Liverpool two weeks later. Since then, the Wanderers have struggled, scoring only one goal in their past five Premier League matches and only rescuing one point from a nil-nil draw against Arsenal. As the home side, SPI projects Bolton as the favorite, taking 1.82 points from this match on average. This is one of the few remaining matches in which SPI projects the Wanderers to take more than one point on average, so their chances of relegation will increase significantly even with a draw.
Queens Park Rangers is also winless in its last five Premier League matches, taking two points of the possible 15. QPR's away form has not been terrible this season, taking the same amount of points away (11) as at home in one fewer match. If QPR can secure the away win on Saturday, despite being projected to win in only 21.4 percent of the simulations, its relegation percentage will decrease significantly.
Blackburn at Wolverhampton
Blackburn and Wolves have combined for three wins so far in 2012, and two of them have come against QPR. With Wolverhampton as the home side, SPI projects it as the favorite, but Wolves' home form as of late has been dreadful. Wolves have not won at home in the Premier League in over 3 months, and have lost all four EPL matches at home in 2012. As a result, Wolves are not as heavily favored as most home sides are against Blackburn, projected to win in 43.8 percent of the simulations. SPI projects that a win would give a bigger boost than normal to their chances of avoiding relegation and a draw would not be overly detrimental.
Since Blackburn's shock victory against Manchester United at Old Trafford on New Year's Eve, the Rovers have taken eight points from eight matches, but just one has come away from home. If Blackburn can secure just its second away victory of the season, its chances of relegation will drop by over 20 percent.