Relegation Watch: Most Important Battles of the Premier League Weekend
The relegation watch this week takes a slightly different look at the teams currently looking down towards the Championship, focusing on the managers wrapped up in the battle to avoid the drop.
With nothing short of a miracle looking likely to be able to save Reading and Queens Park Rangers, neither Nigel Adkins nor Harry Redknapp will be mentioned this week. Apart from just then of course. As our eyes turns to those teams fighting to stay out of that third and final relegation spot.
With Wigan Athletic not playing until midweek, there are five teams, and five managers who will be hoping to build a gap between themselves and the Latics, at least for now.
These next five managers are likely to be spotted patrolling their coaching areas this weekend biting their lip in nervous frustration, looking pensive as they strum their chin, or for one overly emotive manager, potentially tearing up as his side goes into a crucial North East derby.
So read on to find out which men are looking straight down the relegation barrel, in the battle of the managers.
All fixtures, results and league positions taken from BBC.
Alan Pardew vs. Paulo Di Canio: "El Emotico"
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Let's start with a tale of two cities, and a tale of two very different managers. Sunderland travel east to Newcastle on Sunday and Paolo Di Canio will be in charge in his first north east derby.
The Italian could not be more different to Alan Pardew. His team are currently on the slide, whereas Newcastle—despite a few stutters—seem to be on the rise.
However it is their managerial style which sees these two men poles apart. Di Canio; controversial, overly passionate and highly strung is the opposite of Pardew. The Newcastle man's most shocking outbursts most recently were simply to counteract Sir Alex Ferguson's claims that Newcastle are a wee club, and growing a beard.
Di Canio on the other hand has already caused politician David Miliband to resign from the club just by being hired, set the tabloids into overdrive with his reported fascist views, and was an hour late for his first post-match press conference after the Chelsea game.
And he's only been there a week.
Of course, this derby will be played on the pitch. But the battle between the usually calm Pardew (although Arsene Wenger would disagree), and the usually not very calm Di Canio will be fascinating. And Pardew should think twice about pushing Di Canio if things gets heated down on the touchline.
Paul Lambert vs. Martin Jol: "El Tactico"
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Paul Lambert's side have secured victories against Stoke City, QPR and Reading in recent weeks, yet they still sit in 16th place.
Earlier in the season, Lambert was leaning towards a three-man defence, which saw the team concede 17 goals in just five matches. More recently, and most regularly however, he has reverted to a 4-2-3-1 lineup and concede just 23 in 15 games (via WhoScored.com).
Knowing his team have to win to boost their survival chances, Lambert could well stick with the 4-3-2-1 lineup that saw his team beat Stoke last week.
But also knowing Lambert, he likes to surprise the opposition and upset their plans, so could he well go for 3-5-2 to put the away team off their game early on. And as B/R's Sam Tighe points out, 3-5-2 gives Villa the chance to play two strikers up front. And goals win games.
The issue facing Lambert, however, is the little matter of a man called Dimitar Berbatov. One of Martin Jol's best acquisitions for Fulham, he tore QPR apart in the Cottagers 3-2 victory. And could easily hammer a similar nail into Aston Villa's survival chances.
Jol will need to set his team to be easily adaptable to whatever Villa throw at them. And despite having a standard formation of 4-4-1-1 (via WhoScored.com), the Dutchman may need to think a little more like Lambert if he wants to overcome the Midlands side, and switch his starting lineup around.
Arsene Wenger vs. Chris Hughton: "El Defensio"
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Arsene Wenger likes to play a high defensive line, and some extremely poor decisions from the back four have cost Arsenal important results. As Stewart Robson states:
Everything is off the cuff. There is no tactical plan. I see the same mistakes at the back. Why are the full-backs always in the wrong positions? Why does Per Mertesacker make the right decision 99 per cent of the time in the German team but not at Arsenal? There is no cohesion in the back four.”
Chris Hughton doesn't like to play a high back line, but their defensive form seems to come in patches. The beginning of the season showed Norwich's defenders as incredibly unorganized, and saw them concede 17 goals in their first seven matches. However, their next seven games saw just four goals fly into the Canaries' net.
Hughton's defensive strategy seemed to have worked, and that strategy was change nothing, but coach and motivate the same players in the same formation.
But the old Norwich seems to be creeping back in, and despite a winning run for the Gunners, they too seem to be struggling to keep the goals out of their own net. Both sides have just two clean sheets in their last seven games.
This match will be decided by which manager can prepare their defence in the best way possible.
Tony Pulis vs. Sir Alex Ferguson: "El Complete Opposite-Io"
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Tony Pulis' Stoke side have seen a bigger slump than the economy recently. And as Martin O'Neill can testify, a match against Manchester United could well spell trouble for a struggling side.
However, Pulis has been given the rest of the season to rescue his side, and his job, according to the Daily Telegraph. Despite spending £20 million on strikers such as Peter Crouch, Kenwyne Jones and Cameron Jerome, it is Jonathon Walters who leads the team's goalscoring table with six. And he's so good, he even has two for Chelsea.
Just 28 Premier League goals is not what Pulis would have been looking for from his strike force this season.
Sir Alex Ferguson on the other hand has to rotate his strikers constantly just to avoid one of them scoring too many goals and making the others feel bad.
Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez all have more league goals than Walters. And six players in the United team have scored more than Stoke's Michael Owen. Although to be fair, he is on the bench most of the time.
Fergie will be looking for his men to make the most of any defensive frailties Stoke have, whereas Pulis will simply be looking to score any way possible as his slide continue to slide towards the relegation zone.