Making Sense of the English Premier League Relegation Battle: Who's Going Down?
The English Premier League title race may be over, but the battle to avoid relegation is really heating up.
With only six points separating 10th and 17th, the entire bottom half still runs the risk of being sucked into the mixer, no matter what fans of Fulham and West Ham dare to believe.
For the large majority of the season, Queens Park Rangers were a certainty to go down. They've been near the bottom for the entirety of the campaign and under Mark Hughes look lifeless and rudderless.
But now they're back with a bang, and that shakes everything up.
Harry Redknapp is not a magician; he has simply picked up a squad low on confidence but high in talent and inspired them to play the football they're truly capable of.
With a couple of astute additions, several clean sheets and two wins in a row, QPR now look like the odds-on favorites to escape relegation, a remarkable outcome to ponder.
Loic Remy, Stephane M'bia, Jermaine Jenas, Christopher Samba, Adel Taarabt. These are Premier League players and it looks like they will remain so.
So who's the next favourite to finish rock-bottom? It has to be Reading.
Since Adam Le Fondre and Brian McDermott won the Barclay's Player and Manager of the Month, respectively, the Royals haven't won a game.
They've lost four in a row and conceded 13 goals over the past six games, losing to fellow stragglers Wigan Athletic and Aston Villa on home turf.
The Reading players were booed off at halftime and fulltime against the Villans on Saturday, and the atmosphere was acidic throughout.
Unfortunately, beyond QPR's resurgence and Reading's demise, the rest remains very much unclear.
Villa have boosted their survival hopes in several ways in the last month. They've narrowly lost (either in unfortunate circumstances or just plain unbelievable ones) to Arsenal and Manchester City and have also beaten West Ham, Reading and welcomed "Concrete" Ron Vlaar back from injury.
Everybody cites momentum as a big factor in avoiding the drop at this stage, and of all the clubs in the mixer, Villa and QPR have it.
Sitting just below Villa, with a game in hand, is Wigan. The Latics are going to Wembley and, after a favourable draw, stand a decent chance of reaching the final of the FA Cup.
As soon as the draw was made, instant comparisons were made to the Birmingham City side that won the Carling Cup but dropped out of the league.
A precarious balancing act must be carried out by Roberto Martinez, who will be desperate to reach a final but also desperate to steady the ship in the EPL.
He's overseen an unbelievable escape act time after time, but could the distraction of a day out in the capital be the straw that breaks the camel's back?
Much of this is simply unknown, a sentiment you can also attribute to why on earth Southampton are playing top-tier football but not getting results.
After generating 33 shots on goal in their last two games, it's hard to believe they've lost and drawn said fixtures 2-1 and 0-0, respectively. But they did, and Southampton are still far from safety.
If Saints go down, sacking Nigel Adkins will be a decision of ridicule and dark mutterings, but when Adam Lallana misses an open goal, you can't blame Mauricio Pochettino.
Remarkably, none of the bottom-five teams in the league are bottom of the form table. That gong, if you can call it that, goes to Sunderland, who will be peeking below them after failing to win a game since January.
The Black Cats' squad is riddled with deficiencies, and the deadline-day acquisition of Danny Graham has caused more problems than its solved: Martin O'Neill feels pressured to play with two strikers, but that removes Stephane Sessegnon from the playmaking No. 10 role and forces a 4-4-2 formation that can't hold onto the ball.
O'Neill has always been a direct, wing-orientated merchant, but this squad isn't close to the one he ran at Villa Park in 2007-08.
Finally, Norwich City are in trouble.
The good news for them is that they're holding onto points, but they're also struggling to win and their in a position where some might believe they are safe. That's dangerous.
The defensive resilience they showed against Southampton was remarkable, and they'll need those performances every week from Michael Turner if they're going to keep their heads above water.
So how do you make sense of that?
It's an open race with plenty to play for, and the current bottom three could all survive while 15th, 16th and 17th could go down.
Villa and QPR are coming into form, Southampton are stuttering, Norwich and Sunderland are falling while Wigan battle distractions.
We've assessed the situation. Over to you, Bleacher Report commenters. Name your three for the drop and why!
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