Week 27 of the Premier League season was largely a preservation of the status quo at the top. The top quartet of Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool all won to sustain the logjam at the top.
In the bottom half, West Ham and Norwich got three big points each, but as the table shows, little else changed:
|Week 28 Premier League Table|
That does not necessarily mean chaos is likely in Week 28. Judging by the large amount of mid-table teams scheduled to face off, however, the current standings could look drastically different in a week's time.
Matchday 28 will be a lighter schedule, with the Manchester derby and the Sunderland-West Brom games both being postponed. Nevertheless, the fixtures have likely ensured some exciting changes in the standings.
With that in mind, here are a few early predictions on Week 28.
Southampton Upset Liverpool
A week after the Big Four went undefeated, the fourth-place Reds look most vulnerable for an upset next week.
It may not seem obvious at first, given that Southampton just dropped a 3-1 tie to West Ham, while Liverpool have scored 12 goals in their past three matches. However, though the Saints' record does not show any discernible home-away splits, Liverpool are just 5-4-4 with a plus-five goal difference away from Anfield.
That's a far cry from their plus-30 goal difference at home; indeed, Liverpool have conceded multiple goals in three of their past four away matches. While Southampton are likely to receive their fair share of chances on Saturday, as ESPNFC.com's Chris Rann illustrates, the Saints will have to overcome their recent trend of poor finishing:
You might have 70% of the ball, you might have more shots at goal, but ultimately there are no points for style and dominance. I've lost count of the games this season in which Saints could be said to have played the 'nicer' football and had the 'most' chances but left with 'no' points.
It may simply be a case of quantity over quality, but with enough chances from the Reds defense, look for Southampton to steal three points and deliver a tough blow to Liverpool's Champions League aspirations.
Swansea City Move Into the Top Half
The 10th-place position has been a turnstile for the past few weeks, with three points capable of propelling clubs past the morass of the lower half, if only temporarily.
This week, Swansea City stand out as prime candidates to jump past their bottom-half brethren with an away match against slumping Aston Villa. Villa have not yet won in February and are coming off a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Newcastle. After their defeat, manager Paul Lambert was crestfallen, believing his side deserved better:
Conversely, the Swans stuck close with Liverpool in the week's most exciting match with a spirited comeback that fell just short in a 4-3 defeat. Even with the loss, Swansea still sit in 12th, four points clear of the relegation zone.
Swansea have largely fared well against the teams in the bottom half. Apart from a 2-0 loss to West Ham on Feb. 1, they have not lost to a bottom-10 team since a 1-0 defeat at Cardiff City on Nov. 3.
Beefing up their point totals on bottom-table teams will not propel Swansea past the middle of the table, but it should keep them in the Premier League for the third consecutive season. Look for the Swans to win at Crystal Palace and temporarily occupy a top-10 spot.
The Relegation Zone Remains Unchanged
The race to remain in the Premier League has been congested for the entire season, but Week 28 might finally start to stratify the standings, if only a tiny bit.
Sunderland do not have an opportunity to change their fortunes, and last-place Fulham and 19th-place Cardiff City face matches against Chelsea and Tottenham, respectively. The Cottagers have shown some life with draws against West Brom and Man United, as well as a near-miss against Liverpool. As BBC Sport.com's Chris Bevan notes, that has given boss Felix Magath confidence about his team's chances at avoiding relegation:
Asked if he was certain Fulham would survive, Magath said: "I was sure before the game and I am sure now.
"I saw some encouraging things for the rest of the season. We as a team were really close together and fought really well. We looked like a team but without enough confidence to perform how we wanted over 90 minutes.
On the other hand, Cardiff have been reeling, with just two league wins since Jan. 4. The Bluebirds now have the second-worst goal difference at minus-29 and fully look the part of a team destined for the Championship.
That provides a golden opportunity for the likes of Crystal Palace, Stoke City and Norwich City, all of whom can earn some breathing room. At the moment, the bottom eight teams all sit within four points of the relegation zone.
Matchday 28 serves as an opportunity to thin out the race at the bottom.