Battle to beat the drop: Who will stay up in the Premier League?
There are only 10 games to go in the Premier League season and time is running out for a handful of clubs slogging it out at the wrong end of the table.
The prize of staying in the top flight has never been greater as a lucrative new TV deal could see teams dropping down lose out on potential income of £90m.
Relegation from the Premier League is not a disaster for some teams, especially those who live within their means like Reading.
As for bigger clubs like Aston Villa who have become used to life in the top tier of English football, demotion would be disastrous financially.
Villa, though, are not the only side fearing for their Premier League future.
Aside from TV money, gate receipts, sponsorship and even hospitality income would be likely to fall for a relegated team, and failure to bounce back at the first attempt could lead to years of struggle.
To know how bad relegation from the Premier League could be for a team, this season’s strugglers only have to look at the fortunes of the likes of Portsmouth, Bradford and Leeds.
Here we look at the bottom seven teams hoping to avoid the dreaded drop.
PL form (last five games): DDLLW
Odds to go down: 1/4
Doomed until Harry Redknapp arrived, QPR have looked more like a team in recent weeks. The Hoops have improved defensively and have enough quality to stay up, but they remain four points adrift from safety and have scored a paltry eight goals at home in the Premier League.
Run-in: Mixed. QPR host fellow strugglers Sunderland and Wigan as well as Stoke in the next month or so, and are capable of winning all three.
Key man: Loic Remy. The French striker came from Marseille for £8m, and when fit has looked dangerous. He must stay injury-free.
PL form: DWLLL
Odds to go down: 1/4
The Royals look like the Premier League’s weakest team on paper. However, they have plenty of fighting spirit and are able to come back from seemingly impossible situations.
Run-in: Tough. Reading face Southampton, Villa and QPR, but have Arsenal and the two Manchester side plus Liverpool to play.
Key man: Adam Le Fondre. The super-sub has got 12 goals so far this season, and can help turn any game around.
PL form: LDWLL
Odds to go down: 17/20
Austerity has hit Villa hard and Paul Lambert’s band of inexperienced players have struggled through the season. Relegation would be disastrous for them, but it would not be a surprise.
Run-in: Tricky. Games against Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool loom large, but so do more winnable fixtures against Stoke and Fulham.
Key man: Christian Benteke. The only plus point about this season for Villa has been the discovery of this gem of a Belgian striker. He appears likely to leave Villa Park whether or not they survive.
PL form: DDLWL
Odds to go down: 8/11
Wigan manage to stay up by the skin of their teeth year after year, but this could be the season the Lancashire club finally see their stay in the top flight come to an end.
Run-in: Depressing for Latics fans. Tottenham and Arsenal are on the horizon and a final-day clash against Villa could be huge.
Key man: Arouna Kone. The Ivorian striker is known for his wastefulness, but he is in double figures for the season and is a constant threat for Premier League defenders.
PL form: LDWLL
Odds to go down: 3/1
The shock sacking of Nigel Adkins could be a costly mistake for the Saints as the arrival of replacement Mauricio Pochettino has not had the desired impact on results.
Run-in: Testing. Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham await, but the really important fixtures could be against Reading and Sunderland, where six points could make all the difference.
Key man: Rickie Lambert. Lambert is the reason why Southampton are in the Premier League and is the club’s leading scorer this season with 12 goals, but may need help from Gaston Ramirez et al to get the chances he needs.
PL form: WWLWL
Odds to go down: 16/1
It seems like a long shot and Newcastle’s recent form has been okay, but Alan Pardew’s men will be looking nervously over their shoulders at the teams below them.
Run-in: Not too bad. Arsenal and Manchester City are in the pipeline, but a Tyne-Wear derby at home with Sunderland and home games against Stoke and Fulham will be games they can expect points from.
Key man: Papiss Cisse. The sale of Demba Ba to Chelsea in Jaunary has increased the pressure on the Senegalese star, but Cisse is capable of going on a hot streak like many of the best strikers.
PL form: DLLLD
Odds to go down: 14/1
Relegation isn’t what Martin O’Neill had in mind back in August, but it remains a possibility and a continuation of their recent poor form could see them slide down the table once again
Run-in: Hard. Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham and Everton are all to come, while their next game is away at QPR, where defeat might make fans a little more nervous.
Key man: Steven Fletcher. Sunderland’s top scorer would be more prolific if it wasn’t for a midfield that lacked in creativity and guile.