Brighton or Huddersfield must win today’s vital survival clash, as a draw would leave both in range of their rivals with brutal games ahead.
Victory for either would probably be their salvation. A point apiece would leave both vulnerable, if those below pick up wins in the coming weeks.
The pair are currently adrift of the chasing pack and one more win for Brighton would take them to 37 points, ten ahead of Stoke in 19th place and nine from Southampton in 18th. Victory would take Huddersfield to 34 points.
Three points at home to Leicester last week would have done the job for Brighton, but they lost, while Huddersfield fell foul at Newcastle, in defeats that could ultimately be their joint downfall.
Both have mostly desperate matches ahead that nobody really wants or needs, least not in a relegation battle and when you are starting to run out of gas.
Brighton will face arch rivals Palace away, Spurs at home, Burnley away, Man Utd at home, Man City away and Liverpool away. They could comfortably all be defeats.
Huddersfield are up against Watford and Everton at home, Man City and Chelsea away, followed by Arsenal at home. Those two initial home games are crucial. Lose them and Huddersfield could also lose the lot.
Such horrendous runs of defeat would leave Brighton and Huddersfield open to being clawed back slowly by the sides below them. It’s a long shot, but it’s a clear risk.
Strange things often happen in football. Seemingly safe teams plummet and dead teams come to life. Nobody expected Leicester to win 7 of their last 9 games in 2015, to survive.
A similar albeit lesser miracle would need to happen, for Brighton and Huddersfield to be caught, but it is a miracle that they cannot risk.
Both Stoke and Southampton are likely to lose this weekend, with Spurs at home and Arsenal away to face respectively, but that could suggest a false picture.
One or both of Brighton and Huddersfield will pull away further today too, whatever their result, but wins for Stoke and Southampton in the remaining weeks would bolster their belief and eat away slowly at Brighton and Huddersfield if they are losing everywhere.
Stoke and Southampton will need to harness recent improvements and spring some shocks. Shaqiri is vital for Stoke and could be their saviour. If he gets injured, they are dead immediately. Charlie Austin is Southampton’s equivalent.
Hold on tight: the survival battle might yet be a slow-burner, which ignites spectacularly in the final few matches.