Newcastle should be looking nervously over their shoulders
With Manchester City’s name seemingly ready to be etched on the English Premier League title, attention turns to the other end of the table and the battle against the drop.
While Sheffield United and West Bromwich Albion may already be resigned to losing their league status, the struggle to avoid that final place in the drop zone is hotting up, with Fulham, Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion all under serious pressure.
Despite Fulham being in the most immediate danger, it is perhaps those connected to Newcastle, one place and three points ahead of the West London outfit, who should be the most concerned.
Not only have Fulham got themselves upwardly mobile in recent months, but Newcastle have endured a disastrous week that has seen them lose key attackers Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almirón to injury, joining striker Callum Wilson.
To compound matters, reports emerged this week of a training-ground bust-up between midfielder Matt Ritchie and manager Steve Bruce — far from ideal ahead of a crucial clash away to West Brom.
Add to those woes a terrible run of just two wins in the past 15 Premier League matches, and there is plenty for Newcastle faithful to be fretful about.
Burnley v Arsenal
Another club still looking over their shoulder will be fifteenth-placed Burnley who remain six points clear of the drop zone ahead of a visit from Arsenal.
Having seen their previous four-match unbeaten run brought to an abrupt end in a 4-0 thrashing away to Tottenham at the weekend, Sean Dyche’s men bounced back with a hard-fought point against high-flying Leicester in midweek.
Ahead of their trip to Turf Moor, the inconsistent Gunners also secured a promising result against the Foxes, coming from a goal down to go on and claim all three points in a 3-1 victory.
Sheffield United v Southampton
While their fate may already be sealed, Sheffield United will at least avoid the unwanted record of going down with the lowest points total in Premier League history.
A 1-0 victory on Wednesday over Aston Villa – in which the Blades were down to ten men from the 57th minute – took Chris Wilder’s men to 14 points; ensuring Derby County’s measly record of 11 points in 2007-08 remains theirs, and theirs alone.
United will arguably welcome a visit from Southampton, who themselves are in dire straits. No one’s league form in recent weeks has been as bad as the Saints, who suffered a ninth successive defeat in a -0 loss away to Everton on Monday.
Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side have plummeted down the table to find themselves in fourteenth and worryingly only seven points clear of the drop zone.
Aston Villa v Wolverhampton Wanderers
Villa will be desperate to make amends after a disappointing defeat by Sheffield United in which they failed to find a breakthrough against ten men for more than an hour.
Despite the setback, Dean Smith’s side are still comfortably in the top ten, sitting ninth, five points and three places above Midlands rivals Wolves ahead of their visit to Villa Park.
Wolves will be keen to get back on track after seeing their five-match unbeaten run brought to a halt in a 4-1 loss to champions-elect Man City on Tuesday.
Brighton & Hove Albion v Leicester City
Two teams who will be hopeful of three points for different reasons.
For home side Brighton, a victory would go some way in easing their fight against relegation. The Seagulls find themselves in sixteenth and just three points clear of the drop zone.
Graham Potter’s side are winless in four league games and come into the match having suffered back-to-back defeats, including a 1-0 loss to relegation-threatened West Brom at the weekend.
Third-placed Leicester will be aiming to get back to winnings ways, having not picked up a victory in their previous two outings, following up a 3-1 loss to Arsenal with a 1-1 draw with Burnley in midweek.
West Bromwich Albion v Newcastle United
One of the standout fixtures of the weekend and one that could have a big say on both sides’ immediate futures.
Time is starting to run out for West Brom, who have won only one of their previous nine league matches.
Sam Allardyce will be well aware of the need to string a run of wins together sooner rather than later, with his side nine points adrift of safety. However a major incentive ahead of Sunday is that victory against Newcastle would cut that deficit to six points and drag the visitors further into trouble.
Liverpool v Fulham
Questions remain over Liverpool’s failed title defence after they suffered yet another setback in defeat by Chelsea yesterday.
A 2-0 success away to basement boys Sheffield United at the weekend proved a false dawn for Jürgen Klopp’s side, who slipped to a fifth defeat in six in the 1-0 loss to Chelsea at Anfield. The latest setback leaves them in seventh and a mammoth 22 points adrift of Man City.
The Reds will have to wary of the threat posed by Fulham, who have found form in recent months to give themselves a very realistic chance of escaping the drop.
A 1-0 defeat by Tottenham yesterday halted a five-game unbeaten run, but Scott Parker’s side are only three points adrift of climbing out of the relegation zone.
Manchester City v Manchester United
City could take another stride towards the title and who better to do that against than your fierce rivals?
Pep Guardiola’s men welcome their second-placed rivals to the Etihad Stadium aiming to not only enhance their 14-point advantage but also their extend their record-breaking 21 successive victories in all competitions.
Back-to-back draws have halted United’s title challenge but manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would take great pleasure in getting one over their bitter rivals and slow their charge to glory, albeit just slightly.
Tottenham Hotspur v Crystal Palace
Tottenham Hotspur will be aiming to secure a third successive league victory when they welcome Crystal Palace from south to North London.
José Mourinho’s side followed up an emphatic 4-0 success over Burnley at the weekend with a hard-fought 1-0 win away to Fulham yesterday to reignite their stuttering campaign.
They will be confident of securing another three points against a Palace side who are not exactly setting the world alight at present despite picking up points.
A goalless draw at home to Man United on Wednesday stretched the Eagles’ unbeaten run to three matches. However, many Palace fans have been far from excited by the action on offer. Sitting in thirteenth and 11 points clear of the drop zone, it is almost job done for Hodgson for another steady season.
Chelsea v Everton
An intriguing encounter at Stamford Bridge against two sides battling for a top-four finish come the end of the season.
Thomas Tuchel continues to enjoy his start to life at Stamford Bridge, with a 1-0 victory over Liverpool yesterday extending his unbeaten record at the helm since replacing Frank Lampard in January.
The Blues remain fourth but just one point ahead of Monday’s visitors, having played a game more.
The Toffees are going in search of a fourth successive victory, having followed up an historic 2-0 victory over rivals Liverpool with back-to-back 1-0 wins against Southampton and West Brom.
West Ham United v Leeds United
West Ham will be aiming to get back to winning ways and maintain an outside shot at the top four.
David Moyes’s side saw a four-match unbeaten run brought to an end in a narrow 2-1 defeat by Man City last weekend, leaving them in sixth, two points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea, having played a game fewer.
However, Hammers fans will be well aware of task at hand in facing an unpredictable Leeds outfit, who have already proved on their day that are capable of beating anyone in the division.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side are also aiming to get back to winning ways after going down to a 1-0 loss at home to Aston Villa in their previous outing. Victory in East London could prove enough for Leeds to climb back into the top ten.
• Sponsored by One Communications