EPL Relegation Battle Heats Up with Two Crucial Matches on Saturday

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistDecember 7, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21:  James McCarthy of Wigan is closed down by Joey Barton (L) and Akos Buzsaky (R) of QPR during the Barclays Premier League match between Queens Park Rangers and Wigan Athletic at Loftus Road on January 21, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

As the English Premier League season enters the month of December, there are five clubs who are struggling to find any form and have dropped into the relegation battle. 

With all the attention of the soccer world on the big match at the top of the table in Manchester on Sunday, Saturday's two relegation clashes will fly under the radar, but they are the as important as the top of the table clash between Manchester City and Manchester United.

The two relegation clashes on Saturday will take place at the same time, but supporters of all four clubs will have a close eye on what is going on in the other match. 

The two matches will take place at the St. Mary's Stadium in Southampton and the DW Stadium in Wigan.

18th-placed Southampton will host 19th-placed Reading, while Queens Park Rangers, who are stuck in last place, will visit the club sitting in 16th place, Wigan Athletic. 

Southampton vs. Reading

In the match between two of the bottom three clubs, Southampton come into their ninth home match of the season with just 12 points, which have come from three wins and three draws.

Before losing 1-0 to Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday, the Saints were on a four-match unbeaten run. 

That run was bolstered by the return of record signing Gaston Ramirez, who came to the club from Italian club Bologna at the end of the summer transfer window.

Ramirez returned to the club one match before the club's unbeaten run began on November 5th, in the Saints' 2-0 loss to West Brom. 

The best performance from the Uruguayan since his return from injury came in the Saints' 2-0 over Newcastle United on November 25th, when he recorded a goal and an assist. 

The club as a whole has also been a beneficiary of Ramirez's return to the starting 11, as the club have scored seven goals in their last six matches. 

Combining with Ramirez in the Southampton attack are Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Jason Puncheon, who have all had their play enhanced by the talent of the Uruguayan. 

As for their opponents on Saturday, Reading, they do not have a marquee summer signing whom they can rely on, but they do have the resilience of a strong, newly-promoted club making a full-blown effort to stay in the top flight despite their lack of talent. 

Much like Blackpool did during the 2010-11 season, Reading have become an entertaining side to watch with their goalscoring, but they lack the talent to defend.

The perfect example of Reading's lack of defense came last Saturday against Manchester United, when they lost 4-3. 

Reading scored three goals in 23 minutes against the league leaders, but they could not hold the lead, conceding four goals in a 32-minute span. 

Brian McDermott's squad have been involved in three high-scoring clashes. They were on the losing end of each of those matches. 

A win on Saturday would be the perfect boost for a club who have lost three matches in a row, including a five-goal thriller with Wigan two weeks ago. 

One player who has come alive in the past month for the Royals is defender Sean Morrison, who has made six straight starts for the Royals, has scored two goals and is defending very well since his introduction to the lineup on November 4th. 

Morrison and his teammates in defense will have plenty of attacking players to keep their eye on when they visit Southampton on Saturday, but to get the Royals off of their three-match losing streak, Morrison and company must shut down the strong Southampton attack. 

Wigan vs. Queens Park Rangers 

The other match between two relegation contenders takes place at the DW Stadium, as Wigan will host Queens Park Rangers. 

Wigan are coming off of a tough loss on the road on Monday to Newcastle, where defender Maynor Figueroa was sent off in the 12th minute. 

The Latics went on to lose that match, 3-0, but it was not a true representation of how they have performed all season. 

Manager Roberto Martinez has instilled a 3-4-3 formation to which the Latics have responded very well, with players like winger Ronnie Stam having breakout seasons. 

One player who was having a stellar season for the Latics was midfielder Ben Watson, who starred in Wigan's 1-0 win at White Hart Lane over Tottenham at the beginning of November. 

But just when Martinez's club was begin to gel together, it was torn apart by the injury to their midfield maestro. Watson suffered a broken leg in the club's 3-0 loss to Liverpool on November 17th and will be out for the foreseeable future. 

David Jones has been the man called upon to play alongside James McCarthy in the center of the four-man midfield charged with stopping the dangerous attacking trio of Arouna Kone, Jordi Gomez and Shaun Maloney. 

Gomez has been the player who has stood out the most in the past three matches for the Latics, a stretch that began with a hat-trick by the Spaniard against Reading on November 24th. 

Gomez and his partners in attack may have a field day on Saturday against QPR, who rank third in the EPL in goals allowed. 

QPR are still looking for their first win of the season, and they need to recover from their poor start quickly, lest their season be deemed a failure before new manager Harry Redknapp gets a chance to turn the club around. 

One positive that QPR have been able to take out of their last two matches with Redknapp in charge is the fact that they have recorded two draws against Sunderland and Aston Villa. 

One player who has been given a lifeline by Redknapp has been Adel Taarabt, the man who led the R's in scoring during the 2010-11 season, when the club won promotion from the Championship. 

The Moroccan winger had a horrible season last year with just two goals in 27 appearances, as he failed to make any influence on the pitch. 

In the two matches since Redknapp took charge of the club, Taarabt has shown signs of his form from two seasons ago and looks like he is the man to help lead QPR to survival this season. 

QPR face a grueling December schedule after their trip to the DW Stadium on Saturday, with Liverpool, West Brom and Chelsea among their next six opponents. 

A win on Saturday will not only give the club a sense of relief that they can actually win a match this season, but it will give the R's a sense of belief that they will be able to turn things around under Redknapp. 

Whatever the results may be after the final whistle blows for Saturday's matches, there is no doubt that they will effect the relegation race at the end of the season. 


What do you think of Saturday's relegation battles?

Comment below or leave a comment for me on Twitter @JTansey90


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