English Premier League, Week 31 preview and fixtures: A big week for the bottom five

Michael Regan

With the title race all but decided and the battle for European football beginning to become much clearer, the attention once again turns to the relegation battle as the best source of drama in the league.

Sunderland vs. Manchester United

Stadium of Light; Saturday, 12:45 GMT/7:45 AM ET

Sunderland's drift down the table has been so excruciating and their recent form so poor that a 1-1 draw against Norwich City at home was a breath of fresh air. There's likely enough space between Sunderland and the teams below that even a minor improvement would likely keep them safe, but at this point in the season this is a club that would certainly expect to feel slightly more comfortable than they are. That's probably not going to get any better this week.

Pick: United, 2-0

Arsenal vs. Reading

Emirates Stadium; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Not that one was needed, but this game serves as a pretty poignant example of how important a factor expectations are when considering whether or not a season has been a success. Given the circumstances, this is a hugely important game for both sides. The Gunners are fighting to keep their Champions League qualification streak alive, while Reading is fighting to stay alive period. This isn't exactly earth-shattering information, but it's one of those things about sports that people don't actually think about in depth often enough despite the fact that it's kind of weird.

Pick: Arsenal, 2-0

Manchester City vs. Newcastle

Etihad Stadium; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Assuming Manchester United loses every single game the rest of the way, City only needs to take 15 points from the remaining 27 to win the league! And yet people think the title race is over. Ridiculous.

Pick: City, 2-1

Southampton vs. Chelsea

St. Mary's Stadium; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Chelsea might not be playing up to their desired standard this season, but they're still quite good. Heading into games like this, it's sometimes easy to forget things like that as the bigger club's narrative tends to dominate. That does a disservice to the clubs that have managed to beat Chelsea this season, and if Southampton manages to pull out an upset--and they're capable of doing it--let's all hope they get the credit they deserve.

Pick: Chelsea, 3-1

Swansea City vs. Tottenham Hotspur

Liberty Stadium; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Swansea's not playing for much other than pride, while Spurs are peering nervously in their rearview mirror at their tailgating North London neighbors. This game will be super pretty. I don't know why you'd watch anything else.

Pick: Spurs, 2-1

West Ham United vs. West Bromwich Albion

Upton Park; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Hey guys these teams both have West in their name so pretend I made a joke about that. Also, you can probably skip this one.

Pick: Draw, 1-1

Wigan Athletic vs. Norwich City

DW Stadium; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Norwich is probably safe thanks to their excellent early season form, but they've managed just one win in their past ten. It's late March, so Wigan is doing the Wigan thing again. With a game in hand on 17th place Aston Villa (who face Liverpool on Sunday,) a win for the Latics could bring them out of the relegation zone. What about the last eight years makes you think this isn't exactly what's going to happen?

Pick: Wigan, 2-1

Everton vs. Stoke City

Goodison Park; Saturday, 17:30 GMT/12:30 PM ET

Everton looked to be on the verge of slipping out of Europe yet again, but an impressive victory over Manchester City sent the message that things weren't over and done with quite yet. Stoke continues to Stoke right along, and if there's any team a talented but somewhat thin and fragile side wouldn't want to see coming to town, it's the Potters. Everton's season is at the point where every result feels decisive one way or the other, but there's still enough time left that coming out of this clash with a point and full health is likely just fine.

Pick: Everton, 2-1

Aston Villa vs. Liverpool

Villa Park; Sunday, 13:30 GMT/8:30 AM ET

The last time these two sides faced off, Aston Villa managed to earn one of the more unlikely results of the season, tearing Liverpool apart on the counter en route to a decisive 3-1 win at Anfield. It was a coming out party for both Christian Benteke and Andreas Weimann, and it looked for all the world that Villa's recent struggles were on their way to being a thing of the past.

Whoops.

Pick: Liverpool, 2-0

Fulham vs. Queens Park Rangers

Craven Cottage; Monday, 20:00 GMT/3:00 PM ET

QPR looked to be on the way to pulling out a great escape, but a heartbreaking defeat at Villa Park last weekend put a bit of a damper on the outlook. QPR is still a much improved side that's capable of beating the likes of Fulham, but they're so often their own worst enemy and it's difficult to actually commit to predicting that they'll do so.

Pick: Draw, 1-1

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