Relegation Watch: Most Important Battles of the Premier League Weekend
As cut and dried as the top of the table seems, the bottom half is creating headlines for the tabloids in the latter half of this season.
Managers fired, managers hired, teams beating those the table says they shouldn't, and teams losing to those the table says they should be comfortably beating. The battle at the bottom is where all eyes are right now.
And this weekend is no different.
With Reading and Queens Park Rangers seemingly cut adrift, it looks like the fight is to stay out of that last relegation spot. But if results go a certain way, that fight could well be for all three places come Sunday night.
But what are the most important relegation battles of the Premier League weekend? Read on to find out.
All fixtures, results and league positions taken from BBC.
Reading vs. Southampton
Chelsea, check. Liverpool, check. Manchester City, check. So bottom-placed Reading should be a royal rumble, right?
Reading—managerless and favorites to finish 20th—have lost their last six games. But this means they will be even hungrier for a win. But hunger doesn't always translate in the world of football, and no matter how much a team wants it, when your luck is down, your luck is down.
Southampton were struggling a few weeks back, but with successive wins against unsuspecting top-half opponents, they have seen themselves climb to 12th place.
But 12th place isn't as safe as it sounds, and with only four points separating themselves from the relegation zone, the Saints will be looking for their third win in a row.
Prediction? Reading look lost at sea, and Southampton seem to be on the rise. but with the Madjeski Stadium seeing some incredible comebacks in 2013, Royals fans will be hoping for the best. But hope is all they really have to fall back on right now.
Chelsea vs. Sunderland
Sunderland's sacking of Martin O'Neill was received with mixed responses.
The loss to Manchester United was not unexpected, but it seems the timing of the firing and hiring was possibly down to the completion of terms with Paolo Di Canio, rather than the result itself.
A fiery character, PDC has the right sort of attitude to kick the team up the backside and make them fight for survival.
However, the trip to Chelsea may prove too much.
The Blues have been inconsistent recently, but a loss is usually followed by a win in their form book. And they will be smarting from last weekend on the south coast.
Sunderland will need to open their arms to the new-manager honeymoon period if they are to take anything from this match. And they will need to perform a lot better than they have done in the past few weeks.
But at least there is another anagram in the Premier League, with PDC looking to reinvigorate SAFC's current slump. And RVP and AVB are probably most pleased to have another letter-based ally.
Stoke vs. Aston Villa
Aston Villa might have won the NextGen Series, but their current crop aren't doing as well.
Despite Villa's wins against Reading and Queens Park Rangers which saw them climb the table, their loss to Liverpool saw them slide firmly back down into the relegation race.
With a young and inexperienced squad, there are two ways this relegation battle could go for the Villans. They will either show no fear and rise to the challenge, fighting as though there is nothing to lose. Or they will fall apart and crumble into the Championship.
The team is showing signs of both, and this game against Stoke will be incredibly important. But then again, aren't they all?
Away from home, Stoke are poor, but at the Britannia they rule all. With only two losses all season, it will take a lot from Paul Lambert's side to come away with all three points.
But if they are to live up to the lion on their shirt, Villa's young guns will need to go into these types of games with the mentality that they can take something from them. Otherwise their 25th successive year in the top flight could be their last.
For a season at least.
Queens Park Rangers vs. Wigan
The loss to Fulham on Monday was hard to swallow for Queens Park Rangers. It was a game of two halves; as only Fulham turned up for the first 45 minutes.
In 19th place, seven points off safety and with only seven games left, it seems as though QPR are down and out. That was the view after the west London derby, but would a win against relegation rivals Wigan reignite the "could they do it" flame?
Perhaps, but Wigan have a habit of saving themselves at the death. And their win at Norwich had all the trademarks of yet another great escape for the Latics beginning. The 1-0 victory lifted them out of the relegation zone on goal difference, and a win at Loftus Road is very much possible.
This game could set the highlights shows on fire if the lack of defensive nous and current goalscoring form of both teams continue here.
This game could send QPR down, in every way except mathematically. Or it could put a dent in Wigan's standard survival chances.
Either way, this is most likely going to determine Rangers' season. And Wigan will not make the trip with anything less than high hopes.