As the 2013-14 Premier League season enters its final quarter, it is not only the race for the title that is captivating fans, as the battle to avoid relegation to the Championship promises to be one of the closest, nail-biting finishes in the league's history. With nine teams separated by only six points, every set of games from now until May has the potential to change the outlook of the league table.
Bottom club Fulham face an unenviable trip to title-chasing Manchester City, with Manuel Pellegrini's side now focused solely on winning the championship. Under new manager Felix Magath, Fulham have picked up just one win during the German's four game reign, but with this coming last weekend against Newcastle United, the Cottagers have fresh belief they can begin to start climbing the table. While few believe they can claim any points at the Etihad, some of City's aura at home has worn off recently following losses to Chelsea, Barcelona and Wigan that has halted their early imperious form.
Cardiff City also face a difficult game on Saturday as they host in-form Liverpool at the Cardiff City stadium. The Welsh outfit have struggled to pick up any consistent form since sacking manager Malky Mackay and replacing him with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in January and currently sit at the bottom of the league form table, with just four points from their last six games. Cardiff will be looking to reprise some of the performances from earlier in the season in front of their home fans, where they managed to get results from both of the league's Manchester powerhouses. If they suffer another loss, they could find a gap beginning to emerge between themselves and the clubs above them.
Due to cup commitments, Sunderland have found themselves with games in hand over those around them, but have dropped into the bottom three. In their first league away game since the back end of February, Gus Poyet's team will relish a trip to a Norwich side that are sitting just four points above them. The Canaries, however, will feel this is a good opportunity for three points at Carrow Road, a ground where neither Man City nor Tottenham Hotspur have been able to win in recent weeks. The outcome of this match will be important in shaping the relegation battle in games to come, with a win for Norwich pulling them away from immediate danger, while a win for Sunderland would put them in a good position to make the most out of their extra games.
West Brom have had a torrid run of just one win in their last ten games, with that sole victory coming last week away at Swansea City, also new manager Pepe Mel's first win at his new club. This weekend they visit fellow strugglers Hull, who's good early season form at home has tailed off, following losses to Southampton, Man City and Newcastle in recent weeks. While Hull have a more comfortable gap than the Baggies to the bottom of the table, manager Steve Bruce will be wary that they don't fall too close to the edge, as they reach the end of their first season back in the top flight since their promotion last season. Both clubs will be looking for a victory to gain some breathing space from the relegation zone.
Crystal Palace face a key game away at Newcastle United, as they face the risk of being the team closest to the relegation zone. The inconsistent nature of Palace's form throughout the course of the season has seen Tony Pulis' side struggle to break away from danger, but as they face a Magpies team who have just one win from their last five home games, the fans will be hoping they can get a result that can allow them to build a challenge to stay in the Premier League.
Swansea City have also been dragged down into the relegation dog fight recently after disappointing home results against Crystal Palace and West Brom. Garry Monk's time as new head coach started with bright performances but since a Europa League exit at the hands of Napoli, have looked tired and lacking creativity. While the return of star man Michu can provide the Swans with a timely boost, difficult away trips to Everton this weekend and Arsenal in the week could add further pressure to the Welsh side as they aim to avoid the drop.
While nothing will be decided this weekend, the teams at the bottom will all be looking to pick up some form while simultaneously adding pressure to the sides around them. The price of Premier League football increases year on year, so every team will understand the importance of every game from now until the end of the season.
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