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Clubs embrace chaos as survival fight reaches a dramatic conclusion

Everton, Leeds United and Burnley all face relegation with varying degrees of consequence waiting for them.

From left: Jesse Marsch, Frank Lampard and Mike Jackson.
From left: Jesse Marsch, Frank Lampard and Mike Jackson.

THE EQUATION IS one from three. All three outcomes would represent disaster for the one who goes. At the bottom of the Premier League, desperate implications are producing high excitement.

Everton are staring down a horrible history. In recent weeks, ‘Cliff Britton’ has been trending on Twitter, the name of the last Toffees manager to get the club relegated, back in 1950-51.

Though many Evertonians attach much of the blame on the appointment and managerial reign of Rafa Benitez by an owner in Farhad Moshiri they long ago lost trust in, it is Frank Lampard who will be emulating Britton if the very thinkable might happen.

Burnley, who by coincidence Britton led to promotion to the top division in 1946-47, teeter on a financial precipice, company accounts released this week spelling out the high risks their owners, ALK Capital, are riding in a leveraged buyout.

The panic button has already been pressed in the removal of Sean Dyche. Though that’s been a successful move so far, delivering 10 points from 12 since Michael Jackson took the temporary reins, attempting to see out the campaign with a “no manager bounce” is another high-wire act.

And then there’s Leeds, fulfilling the time-honoured role of a team pulled down into trouble. In truth, Leeds have been in trouble since the opening weeks of the season, the unravelling of Marcelo Bielsa’s reign a process that, on reflection, should have been discontinued earlier.

Wisconsin’s Jesse Marsch has managed to win three matches since taking over in March, where Bielsa had managed five in eight months, but Leeds are dragged in by the sudden rediscovery of form by Burnley and Everton.

The implications of relegation from the Premier League are always stark, whichever the club, with finances being the obvious starting point. Decline can soon become quick-burning catastrophe.

A glance down the EFL table will draw the attention to many a name who once felt part of the Premier League furniture. It’s been 23 years since Nottingham Forest were among the elite, and 22 since Sheffield Wednesday were up there.

Over this weekend, Wednesday will play Sunderland in the League One play-off semi-finals. Sunderland’s ten years in the Premier League ended as recently as 2017.

Visit any of those clubs’ homes, and many more, and be transported back in time to when Premier League football was last played there and the money was around to update the stadium. Leeds’ Elland Road is a case in point, its huge East Stand, built in 1994, towering over relics from the 1970s and 1950s that make up the rest of the stadium.

everton-v-chelsea-premier-league-goodison-park Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. Source: PA

Relegation this summer would stymie the redevelopment plans to increase the capacity from 37,890 to 55,000. Leeds spent 17 years away from the Premier League, and they were wracked with pain. And to be relegated when fans were stopped from attending their first, excellent season back under Bielsa by Covid-19 would be a dreadful disappointment.

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Turf Moor, meanwhile, has long been a place to bask in the comforts of a bygone age but now the club is amidst modern, sharp business practice. This week’s published accounts suggest much of a £65m loan against the club would become immediately repayable on relegation.

Hence the decision to sack Dyche, whose alpha-male, Chris-Finch-from-The-Office tendencies had taken the club as far as possible, made them far too predictable for opponents. Jackson, guided by some senior players, has revived Dwight McNeil by switching wings, and asked for more pressing but how long can such a formula last?

Even considering the potential plight of those two, proud northern clubs, it is difficult not to be drawn towards Everton, still one of the grandest names in English football. Lampard, unloved and maligned by many though with Goodison mostly onside, has managed to turn things around to a fashion.

There has, though, been little pattern to the on-field rescue plan beyond being able to wring performances from Richarlison and Jordan Pickford, and a partial return of the club’s mid-1990s ‘Dogs Of War’ values.

Chaos might just be the best way out of this mess. All three clubs under threat appear to be embracing it.

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