While Liverpool are runaway leaders at the top of the Premier League – despite it’s best efforts, not even a global pandemic is going to stop them from winning their first top flight title for 30 years – at the bottom of the table, things couldn’t be more different.
Aston Villa in 19th are just four points off Brighton in 15th but have a game in hand, while just goal difference is currently keeping West Ham and Watford out of the drop zone at the expense of Bournemouth. Squeaky bum time if ever I saw it.
Norwich are slightly cut adrift at the bottom of the table, but could still find themselves out of the relegation places with just two wins.
With proceedings at the bottom poised to be settled by the finest of margins and go right down to the wire, let’s take a look at the key fixtures that could decide the fate of the relegation candidates.
Norwich and Brighton have both sacrificed defensive solidity for open, expansive, attractive football this season, which, while entertaining, has seen the two sides on the receiving end of some hefty score lines.
Eight points currently separate the pair, but this could be all change by the time they meet in the fourth round of fixtures.
The match could be especially important for Brighton, as it is the final time they face a relegation rival before the season is out. The Seagulls – who are yet to win this year – have a particularly tricky run in, with fixtures against Leicester, Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City on the horizon.
The pair had spent much of the season marooned at the foot of the Premier League table together, but the Hornets have pulled away since the appointment of Nigel Pearson in December.
The former Leicester boss has instilled some resilience into this Watford side, although the loss of Gerard Deulofeu – whose creativity was really shining under Pearson – for the the rest of the season due to an ACL injury could prove costly.
Six points currently separate the two sides, with Watford emerging victorious in the reverse fixture at Carrow Road in November – recording their first league victory of the season in the process.
This is why the Canaries are still in with more than just a fighting chance of beating the drop, despite currently sitting six points from safety; they have three games remaining against three relegation rivals in the space of a week.
Whether having these potentially pivotal fixtures congested into a seven day period is a positive or a negative remains to be seen, but it could be one hell of a way to build some momentum.
The Hammers are currently six points ahead of Norwich, and beat Daniel Farke’s side at the start of the season before their campaign unravelled and David Moyes was parachuted in. The former Manchester United boss was gradually easing in marquee January signing Jarrod Bowen before coronavirus struck, and if the winger can find his feet quickly, he could prove to be instrumental.
The pair are currently level on points, with just a +2 goal difference keeping the Hammers above the Hornets.
Watford and West Ham meet in the third final game of the season, before Nigel Pearson’s side see out their campaign with fixtures against Manchester City and Arsenal – who may both just be playing for pride when they take on Watford.
West Ham meanwhile have a trip to Manchester United in their penultimate game of the campaign – who could still have everything to play for in the battle for the Champions League – before a particularly tasty final day of the season encounter.
Southampton have a bit of daylight between themselves and bottom three, having pulled seven points clear after turning a corner following their Leicester City mauling.
Bournemouth however are right in the thick of the relegation battle, with just a goal difference of +1 separating them from safety.
The Saints will probably need two more wins to be certain of their Premier League status – but may have been dragged into trouble by the time they face Bournemouth if they start slowly. A South Coast derby on the penultimate day of the season, with Premier League survival hanging in the balance, could be a tense affair.
The final day of the season has served up a mouthwatering, potentially relegation deciding clash between West Ham and Aston Villa.
Villa are currently two points behind the Hammers, but will leap above them and out of the drop zone should they win their game in hand against Sheffield United.
Dean Smith’s side have a difficult run in, with games against Chelsea, Wolves, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal still to come, but will be boosted by the returning John McGinn, who has left a substantial void in his injury enforced absence since December.
Southampton (A); Everton (H); Arsenal (A); Brighton (H); Watford (A); West Ham (H); Chelsea (A); Burnley (H); Manchester City (A)
Sheffield United (H); Chelsea (A); Newcastle (H); Wolves (H); Liverpool (A); Manchester United (H); Crystal Palace (H); Everton (A); Arsenal (H); West Ham (A)
Crystal Palace (H); Wolves (A); Newcastle (H); Manchester United (A); Tottenham (H); Leicester (H); Manchester City (A); Southampton (H); Everton (A)
Leicester (H); Burnley (A); Southampton (H); Chelsea (A); Norwich (H); Newcastle (H); West Ham (A); Man Cit (H); Arsenal (A)
Wolves (H); Tottenham (A); Chelsea (H); Newcastle (A); Burnley (H); Norwich (A); Watford (H); Manchester United (A); Aston Villa (H)
Arsenal (H); Leicester (A); Manchester United (H); Norwich (A); Liverpool (H); Manchester City (H); Southampton (A); Newcastle (H); Burnley (A)