It has all been a change at the foot of the Premier League table since the international break began two weeks ago, with three struggling clubs swapping their coaches as they seek to stop their slips.
The timing of those changes is understandable, as we now enter the most crucial period of the season, with nine rounds of matches before January 1, by which time the table will have taken shape and any anomalies will have been resolved.
The likes of Leeds, Aston Villa and Southampton will look to pull away from relegation in the next six weeks, while Everton, Crystal Palace, Wolves and Brighton could still be eliminated.
To make things a little easier for us, Sportsmail has analyzed the next nine games of the last eight Premier League teams, with the highest of them, Southampton in 13th place, only six points behind the last three.
Of course, the outlook could change dramatically after January 1 with the transfer window opening and Newcastle amongst others with a lot of money to spend, but this is how we think it will play out between now and New Years Day. ..
Steven Gerrard has been appointed by Aston Villa as they look to get out of trouble
Actual position: 13
Current points: 14
Accessories: Norwich (A), Liverpool (A), Leicester (H), Brighton (H), Arsenal (A), Crystal Palace (A), Brentford (H), West Ham (A), Tottenham (H)
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side was in a good position heading into the international break after a four-game unbeaten streak that included three wins. They can’t hope to get any trips to Liverpool and Arsenal, but they should be able to score enough points to get comfortable in the New Year.
Points expected on January 1 (expected results): 20 (DLDDLLWLL)
Expected position on January 1: 13
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s Southampton has improved after a slow start to the season
Actual position: 14
Current points: 12
Accessories: Newcastle (A), Everton (H), Tottenham (A), Leeds (A), Watford (H), Man United (H), Southampton (A), Brighton (A), Man City (H)
After a dazzling start to the season, Brentford’s bubble burst with four consecutive defeats, and the international break came at the right time for Thomas Frank. Their little team will stretch over the Christmas period, but they have enough winnable home games to stay out of the relegation zone.
Points expected on January 1: 19 (DWLLWLLLL)
Expected position on January 1: fifteen
Newly promoted Brentford got off to a brilliant start with Danish manager Thomas Frank
Actual position: fifteen
Current points: eleven
Accessories: Tottenham (A), Brighton (A), Crystal Palace (H), Brentford (H), Chelsea (A), Man City (A), Arsenal (H), Liverpool (A), Aston Villa (H)
Many expected Marcelo Bielsa’s team to be back in the upper half this season, but a difficult start to matches and bad luck with injuries have put an end to that. However, expect them to keep climbing the table, despite a nightmare in December that sees them take on all three title challengers on the road.
Points expected on January 1: 20 (LDDWLLDLW)
Expected position on January 1: 14
Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds finished ninth last season, but are fifteenth after 11 games this season
Actual position: 16th
Current points: 10
Accessories: Brighton (H), Crystal Palace (A), Man City (H), Leicester (H), Liverpool (A), Norwich (A), Burnley (H), Chelsea (H), Leeds (A)
Steven Gerrard’s opener at home to Brighton is winnable, but any Villa fan hoping for a rise in the table should be patient with the four of the top five from last season ahead. Villa has lost 18 of 35 Premier League games in 2021 and a couple of transfer windows may be needed to reverse that lost habit.
Points expected on January 1: 18 (WLLDLDWLL)
Expected position on January 1: 16th
Gerrard takes over his first Aston Villa match against Brighton this weekend
Actual position: 17
Current points: 10
Accessories: Man United (H), Leicester (A), Chelsea (H), Man City (H), Brentford (A), Burnley (A), Crystal Palace (H), Wolves (A), West Ham (H)
Sorry Watford fans, but it’s hard to see where the points are coming from before the New Year. Claudio Ranieri’s best hope of victory may be against Manchester United if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team continues its poor form. Christmas brings a breather after a rough November and early December, but the drop zone draws you in.
Points expected on January 1: 12 (LLLLLLDDL)
Expected position on January 1: 18
Claudio Ranieri has to face a tough streak of matches as he seeks to keep Watford afloat
Actual position: 18
Current points: 8
Accessories: Crystal Palace (H), Tottenham (H), Lobos (A), Newcastle (A), West Ham (H), Watford (H), Aston Villa (A), Everton (H), Man United (A)
Sean Dyche’s team has continued its recent habit of being slow starters, but results and performances have improved lately, with just one loss in five. Burnley has already pulled five and more draws can be expected over the next month, which should be enough to get them out of the bottom three.
Points expected on January 1: 16 (DLDDDWLDL)
Expected position on January 1: 17
Sean Dyche’s Burnley is slowly turning things around after a rough start to the season
Actual position: 19
Current points: 5
Accessories: Brentford (H), Arsenal (A), Norwich (H), Burnley (H), Leicester (A), Liverpool (A), Man City (H), Man United (H), Everton (A)
Despite all the excitement surrounding its new Saudi owners and the appointment of Eddie Howe, Newcastle still has the same players, and a tough streak of matches over Christmas. Howe should clinch his first win of the season in no time with three winnable home games, but January can’t come soon enough.
Points expected on January 1: 10 (DLWDLLLLL)
Expected position on January 1: 19
Eddie Howe has taken over Newcastle after its new owners fired Steve Bruce
PREDICTED FINAL EIGHT ON JANUARY 1
13th – Southampton (20 points)
14th – Leeds (20 points)
15th – Brentford (19 points)
16th – Aston Villa (18 points)
17th – Burnley (16 points)
18th – Watford (12 points)
19th – Newcastle (10 points)
20th – Norwich (10 points)
Actual position: Twentieth
Current points: 5
Accessories: Southampton (H), Wolves (H), Newcastle (A), Tottenham (A), Man United (H), Aston Villa (H), West Ham (A), Arsenal (H), Crystal Palace (A)
Like Howe, Dean Smith has home games that he will aim for for victories early in his reign at Carrow Road. However, once again, like Newcastle, Norwich still has the same group of players who have had so much trouble so far, so it’s hard to see them coming out of the bottom three before New Years.
Points expected on January 1: 10 (DWLLLDLLL)
Expected position on January 1: Twentieth
Dean Smith took over the Norwich job just days after being fired by Aston Villa