The battle for a right to stay in the Barlcays Premier League is becoming as tight as the race for a place in the Top 4. Here is a closer look at 4 games that could decide who gets another crack at the riches the Premier League has to offer.
Aston Villa v/s Queens Park Rangers (currently scheduled for April 20)
Games between teams in the bottom 5 of the league in April are always crucial, but Aston Villa’s 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion has given this game an additional dimension. Villa traditionally do not maintain a large squad, and even though a date at Wembley awaits Tim Sherwood’s squad, the FA Cup is bound to affect Villa’s preparation for this fixture. This game is currently scheduled for a April 20, but will eventually be moved thanks to Villa playing in the semi finals of the FA Cup on April 18/19. Given that the FA Cup final takes place after the conclusion of the Premier League, Aston Villa and their supporters will not experience the dilemma Wigan faced in 2013 when they won the Cup and relegated from the Premier League within the same week.
Also interesting is the fact that this fixture will take place at Villa Park. Aston Villa have had an awful home record for the past 3 years, while QPR did not record even a single win away from home until February. This game was poised to be a stalemate as long as Paul Lambert was in charge at Villa Park, but Tim Sherwood’s presence at the touchline is sure to make things more interesting on the goalscoring scale. Chris Ramsey’s men, on the other hand, are cripplingly dependent on Charlie Austin for goals, and will need to fire for them to stand any chance of getting out of Villa Park with a positive result.
Hull City v/s Burnley (May 9)
As things stand, Hull City are 15th in the Premier League, 6 points clear from the relegation zone. However, they are due to face Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United in 3 of their final 4 games of the season – all of whom are desperate to clinch the 4th place trophy for the season. That is not good news for Steve Bruce.
In recent years, desperation to stay in the Premier League often results in one of the bottom 5 pulling together a run of form that goes against all bets based on how strong teams are on paper. A home game against Burnley on matchday 36 is not going to tip the scales one way or another by itself, but the difficult run-in that Hull are faced with makes this game a must-win to ensure Premier League safety.
Burnley, on the other hand, still have catching up to do in their quest to stay in the Premier League. Despite their lowly status, in terms of the league table as well as financially, they have earned appreciation from their supporters and opponents for their high pressing and attacking mindset. Manager Sean Dyche has repeatedly backed up his claims that his squad is among the fittest in the league, refraining from making changes in recent weeks, and even leaving his squad unchanged during the busy Christmas period. It would a fantastic piece of work if Dyche keeps this going in the second week of May, but Burnley are in big trouble if anything happens to Danny Ings at any time until the end of the season.
Aston Villa v/s Burnley and Leicester City v/s Queens Park Rangers (May 24)
Villa, QPR, Burnley and Leicester City (in that order), may not all be the bottom 4 in the league come May 24, hence any speculation as to what they all need for survival is pointless. These two fixtures are not just significant because they are 6-pointers, but also because Hull City and Sunderland may still not be guaranteed of safety.
Safety from relegation is often an overlooked factor in deciding the results of six pointers like Villa-Burnley and Leicester-QPR. Safety from relegation, or confirmation (as is likely with Leicester) can have a potentially draining effect on the teams involved. Depending on what happens in Aston Villa v/s QPR, the two could still be competing directly against each other for a right to stay in the Premier League by the time we get to the final day.