LONDON -- The timing could scarcely have been more intriguing. Just as West Ham fans were grumbling about another day when their expensively looking squad looked so much less than the sum of its parts, the other team that begs you to label them too good to go down blinked. Brendan Rodgers and Leicester parted ways with the Foxes firmly ensconced in the bottom three.
Soon after, Nayef Aguerd would go on to earn the Hammers three crucial points against Southampton that propelled Leicester further down the table, one of the few moments that enlivened one of the season's worst contests. If anyone deserved to win this exhibition of the atrocious it was West Ham but victory over the Premier League's bottom side only did a little to quell the murmuring of discontent at the London Stadium, where David Moyes is struggling to find a side that even approximates the sum of its parts.
For now, at least, Moyes might conclude that the ends justify the means. After all, that win alone sent West Ham flying up the table from 19th to 14th, a reminder of how razor-thin the margins are in a relegation race that seems likely to end with multiple sides sweating over their Premier League future. Here is how it is all shaping up while taking a crack at the chances of survival:
Crystal Palace, 12th place (30 pts)
The Eagles had a hellish run of fixtures to start 2023, most of which they lost by the odd goal but blinked and sacked Patrick Vieira and will presumably have to start afresh again next season. They will quite possibly have to do so without Wilfried Zaha, whose status for the remainder of this campaign is now up in the air after he injured his groin.
With or without him, they will not need to accrue many points but they might do so anyway if Roy Hodgson continues in the sort of atypical vein with which he began his reign in victory against Leicester. The 31 shots the Eagles took on Daniel Iversen's goal was the most they had taken in a Premier League match since Boxing Day 2018; the directness of their play ripped their opponents to ribbons even if it took until the 95th minute for that to translate to the winning goal.
In all likelihood, Hodgson will gravitate more towards solidity, turning those one-goal defeats into draws, but a bit more of rapidity in their game should pull them further away from danger.
Chances of going down:1/10
Wolves, 13th place (28 pts)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, appointing a former Real Madrid and Spain head coach had a pretty swift impact on proceedings at Molineux. However, results have dropped off quite significantly for Julen Lopetegui since that bright start -- Wolves have won just one of their last seven -- and the underlying metrics offer some quite significant cause for concern. Since the World Cup, they are averaging 1.07 expected goals (xG) per game while their opponents are at 1.67. That makes for the Premier League's 16th-best attack and 18th-best defense, a recipe for hovering precariously above the trapdoor. The talent is there in the middle of the park to make for a good side, the issue is what happens at the other two ends of the pitch.
Chances of going down:3/10
West Ham, 14th place (27 pts)
If Bournemouth are the team every model and metric hates, West Ham are their darlings. Moyes' team has the best xG difference of any team in the bottom half and only Chelsea also average more xG per game than they allow. What those models don't have to do, however, is watch West Ham. This is a team that engenders frustration from its supporters with plodding football and square pegs who seem to have been steamrolled into round holes.
Lucas Paqueta once more combined elegant flicks with maddening moments while his midfield partner Tomas Soucek has seen his game fall apart over the last 18 months. That these issues are more structural than individual is reflected in the misfiring strike force of Danny Ings, Michail Antonio and Gianluca Scamacca. The first two have a track record in the Premier League to fall back on but too often this season they are anonymous.
West Ham should be fine, as their metrics suggest. However, the next three games -- at home to Newcastle and Arsenal either side of a trip to Fulham -- could change the mood music around this most tempestuous of clubs quite dramatically. Still, that final day trip to Leicester looms ominously on the horizon.
Chances of going down:2/10
Nottingham Forest, 15th place (27 pts)
Since their return to the top flight, Forest have been the sort of reliably streaky outfit you'd expect given the continual state of overhaul (some but not all of which was a necessary response to a surprise promotion off the back of impressive loanees) and with 10 games to go they seem to have hit another run of bad results. Winless since Feb. 5, Steve Cooper's side have, however, had their moments, pushing Newcastle hard before falling in the last minute and taking a famous point off Manchester City.
It may, however, be wise to price in further turbulence. This week brought fresh reports that Cooper was under threat, he may be beloved by the Forest faithful but it would have to be a manager of particular excellence who quelled the capricious instincts of Evangelos Marinakis. It would be quite the gambit if Cooper were to be relieved of his duties. This is a coach who has not just unified much of a disparate squad but who has established the City Ground as a cauldron and invigorated a city. Such qualities should not be dispensed with so swiftly.
Chances of going down:4/10
Bournemouth, 16th place (27 pts)
Statistics would tell you that Bournemouth ought to be as near to a lock for relegation as this nine-team scrap has. By a margin of five, no one has conceded more goals. No one has a lower xG while their xG difference per game is 50 percent worse than Forest's 19th-best mark. Looking down their squad there is no one who could particularly convince you they are the difference maker either; Gary O'Neill does not have a group of players to call on that have been hardened by battles at the bottom of the table.
For all those reasons they feel like one of the two likely relegation candidates. And yet the form table is swinging their direction with three wins in their last six; one of those other games saw the Cherries give Arsenal the fright of their lives at the Emirates Stadium. They remain firmly in the mix, no mean feat for a team who so many penciled in to go straight back to the Championship.
Chances of going down:5/10
Leeds, 17th place (26 pts)
The manager has changed again but Leeds do not seem to be breaking their habit of letting their best moments go to waste, as they proved on Saturday. Wilfried Gnoto, 19, might be the forward you trust most in front of goal while Illan Meslier, for all his rich promise, has the sorts of ricks in him you'd expect from a young goalkeeper. Brenden Aaronson rather crystallized the issues after Saturday's loss to Arsenal.
"It was working well. We had them on the counter attack a few times, we didn't finish our chances, and that's the end of the story. If we finish those it could be a different game," he said.
It was curious to hear him, say, however, that he and his teammates' "main focus" isn't the Premier League table. For all the good football they play, it is not translating into results.
Chances of going down:3/10
Everton, 18th place (26 pts)
Since Sean Dyche's appointment, the Toffees rank 13th in xG allowed, hardly spectacular but a swift improvement from the sieve with which they seemed intent on defending their goal under Frank Lampard. Their new manager has made Everton hard to play against, just as everyone would have expected, but a coach who was never known for his attacking play is managing with one hand behind his back given the paucity of his attacking options. Dwight McNeill is the top scorer for this team in the Premier League. He has four goals.
If an injury-addled Dominic Calvert-Lewin were to give Everton even eight or so games at his top level between now and the end of the season the club could feel confident in their ability to plan for a 70th consecutive season in the top flight. That seems less than likely to happen, though, meaning Dyche will need to get elite defense from this side if they are to survive.
Chances of going down:3/10
Leicester City, 19th place (25 pts)
For years top clubs have been glancing covetously at the likes of Youri Tielemans, James Maddison and Harvey Barnes and yet in key positions, there has been a stark drop-off in quality. Jamie Vardy could only defy the aging process for so long whileDanny Ward is nowhere near a good enough goalkeeper to be able to survive with an underwhelming defense ahead of him.
Arguably, it was the right decision to sack Rodgers, who in time will be guaranteed a warm welcome at the King Power for his FA Cup triumph. However, questions have to be asked as to why it was that the Northern Irishman had the hierarchy's faith during a two-week international break but lost it in the course of 90 minutes on Saturday, extremely poor as they may have been. That calls into question whether Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha and company can be trusted to get the right man for this most high stakes of jobs. As Southampton have already proven this season, sacking a struggling coach does not bring with it a guaranteed new manager bounce.
Chances of going down:4/10
Southampton, 20th place (23 pts)
From the start of the season, it looked like Southampton had built the sort of roster that would win an MLS side much praise: so much investment in talented young players around whom the club could be built with one or two standouts netting a haul on the market. The issue was rather how such an unproven team might fare in a world of relegation.
Thirty-eight games such as Sunday's, one where the Saints were hard to break down even if they lacked punch in attack,might have given them enough to scrape to safety by the barest of margins in a normal campaign. From then on there would have been something to build towards, the likes of Romeo Lavia and substitutes Carlos Alcaraz and Paul Onuachu showed promise and threat late on.
In short, everything might be very different for Southampton... had they not kneecapped themselves for four months with Nathan Jones. It seems cruel to pin an entire season on one individual and indeed the Welsman was so clearly out of his depth from early on that plenty of criticism is due to those who appointed him. Ultimately the three points they took from a possible 24 under Jones look like being nowhere near enough for a club who were never in a position where they could afford to fritter away 20 percent of the season.
Chances of going down:6/10