Premier League, Week 35 preview: Relegation battlers face big guns

Jan Kruger

It'tll be surprising if the relegation or title races change much this week. The teams fighting for the Premier League crown face the ones that are trying to stay up.

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Fulham

White Hart Lane; Saturday, 12:45 GMT/7:45 AM ET

After spending much of the last several months seemingly oblivious to the fact that they were at the bottom of the Premier League, Fulham seem to have gotten the memo, winning two in a row and pulling themselves to within two points of safety. That's not much of a gap to make up with four games still to play, and Spurs look to pose the greatest challenge of the teams remaining on their schedule. The relegation battle has been worth paying attention to for awhile now, but this is where it truly starts to get interesting; 13 Premier League sides are at least functionally safe, but as it stands it wouldn't be shocking to see any of those that aren't go down (or, in the case of those currently in the bottom three, stay up.) But we're also at a point where things could be functionally decided this week. Fulham are flying high-in a relative sense-now, but just a few bad results could ultimately make the climb to safety just a bit too steep.

Aston Villa vs. Southampton

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

One of the teams still very much a part of the relegation battle are Aston Villa, and given the state of things just a month ago that's somewhat hard to believe. Villa followed up back-to-back wins and what seemed like smooth sailing to mid-table safety with four straight losses-there last two to direct relegation battle rivals-and over the past week things have really gone downhill; the fans have almost fully turned on Paul Lambert, members of the backroom staff have been unceremoniously sacked, seemingly every result has gone against them, and now rumors are emerging that a deal to sell the club may well be in place, with the caveat that Villa must stay in the Premier League in order for it to be finalized. Things have gotten quite interesting for Villa, in a season that looked as though it might be boring in a most welcome sense not too long ago.

Cardiff City vs. Stoke City

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

Cardiff City's unexpected win over Southampton last weekend has kept them in the race for survival, but it's an uphill battle; the remainder of the fixture list is not especially kind, with Newcastle and Chelsea still to play. Sunderland is a game Cardiff will feel that they can win, but that won't be enough; they'll likely need at least one other result, and given the way Stoke have been playing as of late, getting one here isn't going to be easy.

The Potters are-somewhat shockingly-one of the Premier League's most interesting teams, displaying all of the athleticism and tactical intelligence of the vintage Tony Pulis-led sides but with a noticeably classier, more technical edge under Mark Hughes. It took awhile for Hughes' influence to become apparent and Stoke looked to be a side in some trouble earlier on in the season, but something's clearly clicked over the past few months. It wouldn't be the least bit shocking to see the Potters overtake Newcastle down the stretch, and they're clearly going to be a team to watch going into next season.

Newcastle United vs. Swansea City

St. James' Park; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Speaking of Newcastle, what on earth happened there? This was a club that looked a decent bet to finish in the top 8 and a real threat to make a push for Europe, but now it wouldn't be all that surprising to see them fall into the bottom half. This season is still going to be a significant improvement over last, but they've got some work to do in the summer if they hope to make any progress next season. The same is true of Swansea, but the bar for "progress" is much lower in their case; it's tough to see this season as anything other than a major disappointment, and with two straight losses they're still very much in danger of going down. That's a bit tough to believe given their -5 goal difference and the quality they've shown themselves capable of displaying, but when you only manage to win 8 games in 34, you're going to be in for a pretty rough time.

West Ham United vs. Crystal Palace

The Boleyn Ground; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Crystal Palace have won four straight and will make a return to the Premier League for the 2014-15 season,and which is rather stunning considering how bad off they looked only a month ago. Their mid-week win over Everton was a pretty major statement, and though this kind of form isn't really indicative of their actual talent level, it's tough to argue that they're a bottom-three caliber team that's gotten lucky at the right time. This has been an impressive run, no matter how you slice it.

But this is still Tony Pulis' Crystal Palace going up against Sam Allardyce's West Ham United, so probably find something else to watch.

Chelsea vs. Sunderland

Stamford Bridge; Saturday, 17:30 GMT/12:30 PM ET

Manchester City's mid-week draw (that really should have been a loss) to Sunderland didn't quite make things a two-horse race for the title, but it was certainly good for Chelsea. Despite how well they've been playing Liverpool probably isn't going to win the remainder of their games, and the Blues will get a crack at them next week. That could legitimately turn the title race once and for all, but in their other games Chelsea simply need to take care of business. Sunderland should not, under any circumstance, be taking any points from Stamford Bridge. Teams not beating them at home probably don't deserve the title. (Looking at you, Manchester City.)

Norwich City vs. Liverpool

Carrow Road; Sunday, 12:00 GMT/7:00 AM ET

With all of that stuff about Liverpool probably not winning out up above, given how well they've been playing three-plus months it's also kind of tough to picture them not winning. Plenty of folks were saying the same about Manchester City not so long ago and incredible runs come to an end all of a sudden with no real explanation quite often, but I am a coward so there's absolutely no way I'm predicting that it will happen in this game. Norwich are a very bad team, and with their back line going up against Liverpool's attack, this could be an incredibly long day for the Canaries.

Hull City vs. Arsenal

Liberty Stadium; Sunday, 14:05 GMT/9:05 AM ET

It's entirely possible that Arsenal were more excited about Crystal Palace's shocking win over Everton than Palace themselves, with the Toffees' game in hand now gone and the Gunners still clinging to 4th. Arsenal aren't out of the woods by any stretch, but Everton's stretch run is pretty rough, while Arsenal's is quite favorable. If the Gunners can just get through the final four games without tripping over their own feet, they're likely to keep the Champions League qualification streak alive for another year.

Everton vs. Manchester United

Goodison Park; Sunday, 16:10 GMT/11:10 AM ET

There's lots of interesting stuff happening at the bottom of the table, but this is the most interesting game that could have implications towards the top. Everton do not have an easy run-in with Southampton, Manchester City and a tricky Hull side still to play, and with Arsenal having a real shot at running the table in their final four games the Toffees are going to need to put together some impressive results to keep pace. This is a major litmus test for Everton; United aren't their vintage selves, but they're still a very good team and all of the pressure is on the Toffees. A loss here potentially ends Everton's Champions League dreams, and with some very major questions about how the team will look next season, this could be their best chance in the near future.

Manchester City vs. West Bromwich Albion

Etihad Stadium; Monday, 20:00 GMT/3:00 PM ET

It's tempting to be flippant about West Brom's chances here, but they're a better team than Sunderland and the Black Cats were a spilled save away from leaving the Etihad with all three points. Still, it's very, very tough to see that happening again; City have some flaws, but West Brom are just actively bad. Actively bad teams can beat much better teams (Aston Villa only beat much better teams, for example) but a lot has to go just right. That was the case on Wednesday, but the smart money's betting it won't be the case again on Monday.

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