Reassessing the English Premier League Relegation Battle with 4 Games to Go
With four games to go in the English Premier League, the relegation scrap remains as unpredictable as ever.
Recent wins for Sunderland, Norwich City and Stoke City threw a spanner in the works for Aston Villa and Wigan Athletic's hopes of leapfrogging them, and this weekend's fixtures will go a long way toward shaping the end of the season.
Read on for the latest assessment of the battle.
QPR and Reading
Had Aston Villa beaten Manchester United on Monday night, Queens Park Rangers and Reading would have been automatically relegated from the English Premier League.
That's how close they are to dropping out of the league, and not even the wildest fans of either club are expecting to do the impossible.
With both sides playing Championship football next season, one last slot remains at the bottom of the table.
Currently occupying the 18th spot in the English Premier League is Wigan Athletic, who sit three points from safety but boast a game in hand on their relegation rivals.
Wigan have turned a corner at the right time (again), continue to play some scintillating football and have an FA Cup final to look forward to.
Roberto Martinez, though, will be worried; Wigan players will have their hearts set on a day out at Wembley, and you would only forgive them for ducking a few challenges the game before the event.
Due to the FA Cup run, Wigan have had a bit of a fixture pile-up and they've lost their last two on the trot. They host a Spurs side who just beat Manchester City next.
Sitting in 17th, just three points above the dreaded drop zone, is Aston Villa.
Paul Lambert's side were lucky to avoid a humiliation on Monday night, conceding just the three goals as Manchester United claimed their 20th top division title.
They face a real cruncher against Sunderland on Monday night at home, and if they can claim yet another precious three points against a relegation rival, things will start to look seriously rosy.
Lose that game, and the fans are looking down the table, not up.
Newcastle United, Stoke City and Sunderland
Newcastle United, Stoke City and Sunderland are all on 37 points and, it could be argued, just one win each away from survival.
A total of 40 points looks all but certain to equal relief this season, but only one of these teams could be considered a lock to grab another win.
Newcastle have the talent, but they're not churning out wins. Stoke beat a Queens Park Rangers side last weekend, but it was clear Harry Redknapp's side had already waved the white flag. Meanwhile, Sunderland look resurgent under Paolo Di Canio and appear pretty safe.
|35||Stoke City vs. Norwich City|
|35||Aston Villa vs. Sunderland|
|36||Norwich City vs. Aston Villa|
|36||Sunderland vs. Stoke City|
Looking at the fixture list, the next two weekends could shape it.
Norwich City currently sit 13th in the English Premier League table, and fans of the club reckon they're pretty much safe.
Barring a disaster, they are, but they do struggle to win games and remain just four points off Aston Villa in 17th. Chris Hughton's side still have Stoke City and Aston Villa to play, then finish the season away to Manchester City.
It would take a horrible sequence of events to see the Canaries relegated, but when you're four points above 17th, you are categorically not safe.
So who's going down?
Reading?—check. Queens Park Rangers?—check. The third slot? Still wide open, I'm afraid.
Calls that the battle to avoid 18th place is solely between Aston Villa and Wigan Athletic are premature and incorrect: A win for Villa sees them level with 14th place, then they travel to Norwich the week after.
Two incredible but not unrealistic victories will see the claret and blue side safe, but football isn't simple, and we all know it.
Despite Stoke's win last weekend, there's genuine credit to the theory that if they hadn't played a thoroughly deflated and defeated team they would not have claimed a priceless three points.
The Potters still look very vulnerable, but Wigan Athletic must be the favourites.
They have a game in hand, but they have to win it, and their schedule looks pretty daunting. Tottenham, Manchester City, Arsenal, Swansea and West Brom precede the deadline day "big 'un" against Aston Villa at home.