Relegation Watch: Most Important Battles of the Premier League Weekend
It's that time of week again.
The time when relegation candidates start getting itchy feet before the weekend's action. Wondering what team their manager will pick to try and get an important three points. Whether they will keep that illusive clean sheet. And whether their star player will step up to the proverbial plate and make the difference between success or failure.
This weekend is an important weekend in the relegation race. However not because teams can steer themselves away from the drop zone. But because come Monday evening, the bottom four could potentially only be separated by four points.
To find out how, read on.
All fixtures, results and league positions taken from BBC.
Aston Villa vs. Manchester City
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Aston Villa's weekend will be spent waiting for the champions to come to town on Monday evening.
Manchester City have picked up 24 points in their last 13 games. That's as many as Villa have picked up all season. But when a team is fighting for their lives, and are facing a top team at home, anything can happen.
Just ask Mauricio Pochettino.
In fact, just ask Roberto Mancini.
Paul Lambert's side have scored just 11 goals at home this season, the second lowest in the league (take a wild guess at who the lowest is). And they will need star striker Christian Benteke to take any chance he gets in order to go away with something from this game.
Unlikely, yes, but if Villa produce the form they showed when hosting West Ham United earlier in the month, they could well drag City further from the title, and themselves closer to survival.
Everton vs. Reading
Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Reading recorded their first win of the season over Everton in November last year, and will be hoping to repeat that result in an attempt to get themselves out of a sticky situation.
However Everton are still fighting to finish in fifth, and although their recent form has been mixed, they will be looking to turn a corner against a struggling side.
David Moyes' side have only lost once at home all season and Reading have only won once away from Berkshire, so for the Royals to take the trip to Merseyside looking for all three points would be foolish. But a draw is certainly a possibility.
With Reading second from bottom with only 11 games remaining, it will be taking unexpected points against top teams that could be the difference come the end of the season. But they will have a tough ride on their hands keeping Marouane Fellaini and co. at bay.
Wigan vs. Liverpool
Steve Bardens/Getty Images
The Great Escape has been overused in the past few months, but if any team knows the value of Steve McQueen's struggle, it's Wigan. For once, they are leading the pack in terms of "teams that aren't very good", and are hovering just above the drop zone, on goal difference.
The DW Stadium can be a tough place to go for traveling teams, but a great place to visit for traveling fans—great pies.
Although the results don't suggest Wigan's ground is a fortress, they make it very difficult for opponents to play the football they want.
But Liverpool seem to have found their Beatles groove recently, with the only blot on their 2013 copybook being a defeat to West Brom—as the loss to Manchester United could well have gone either way (via The Guardian).
Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge are forming a partnership both deadly and beautiful to watch, and with the Reds having scored 18 goals since the introduction of the ex-Chelsea man, they are proving a tough duo to stop.
But Wigan will have to try their hardest not to slip into the drop zone, especially should Aston Villa pick up a point, or Reading even pick up three.
Southampton vs. Queens Park Rangers
Julian Finney/Getty Images
And talking of the Great Escape, we move to Queens Park Rangers and the start of a run of games which will define their Premier League future. For next season at least.
Sunderland and Villa follow the match against Southampton, and Rangers will be looking to take maximum points from all three. But anybody who has seen QPR play this season will know, it most definitely will not be as easy as that.
A trip to the South Coast is certainly no easy feat, and with Rickie Lambert seemingly able to find the net even after playing dizzy penalties, and the midfield stepping up to add to the goal tally when Lambert fails to score, they are a dangerous opponent.
Needless to say, the stat that resonated with most QPR fans at the weekend was this: QPR goals scored: 19. Robin Van Persie goals scored: 19. One man scoring more than a team is not a good record, even if that man is RVP.
Someone—anyone—will need to improve this horrendous stat at the weekend to give the Rs even a sniff at a result.
In all honesty, all though Harry Redknapp will consider this a "must-win" (aren't they all), Southampton are on a good run at the moment. And they will be pegging this down as a "must-win" themselves.
However, if the previous three mentioned teams all lose, and QPR somehow manage a win, that will not only drag the Saints closer to the mire, but also reduce the deficit to just four points for safety. And four points is a lot more manageable than what they are sat on right now.