Could this be a pivotal weekend in the Premier League’s relegation battle?
Yes, yes, we know – the top-flight season isn’t halfway through yet and there’s a LOT of football to be played.
But with several clubs at the bottom facing each other and one or two managers under pressure, will this be the moment when some teams look back as a turning point in their campaign?
What are the key games?
First, let’s remember exactly what things look like at the bottom of the table.
Southampton risk being cut adrift as they sit bottom of the table and three points from safety, but above them just three points separate Wolves in 19th and Leicester in 13th.
Six of the final eight face off on Saturday:
- Everton v Southampton
- Nottingham Forest v Leicester
- Wolves v West Ham
Meanwhile, Bournemouth, who are currently one point above the relegation zone, travel to Brentford on Saturday while Leeds – sitting 14th and three points from danger – are at Aston Villa on Friday.
Who is fit and who is in crisis?
Nottingham Forest have appeared to struggle in their return to the top flight but a run of two wins, two draws and just one defeat in their last five games has kept them off the bottom and – for now – clear of trouble .
Steve Cooper’s side picked up a crucial away win last week at Southampton, which looks ominously in the league under new manager Nathan Jones.
Saints have not seen this new manager bounce back with Jones, having lost all four of their Premier League games since his appointment on November 10.
They did, however, pick up a shock 2-0 victory over Manchester City in the EFL Cup quarter-final on Wednesday which could provide a much-needed boost of confidence.
West Ham, Everton and Bournemouth are also struggling for form, with only the Cherries of those three having won in their last six games.
Which managers are under pressure?
It’s hard to suggest that a manager on one side down the table will feel particularly comfortable in their job.
But Jones isn’t long in his role at Southampton, so a change seems unlikely there anytime soon – particularly after the win over City.
Everton boss Frank Lampard and West Ham manager David Moyes will certainly feel the pressure.
This is where this weekend’s games appear so crucial. A win for Lampard and Everton at home to Southampton and they could climb out of the bottom three, but defeat would be unthinkable.
“Neither Everton nor manager Frank Lampard can afford to lose their home game against Southampton on Saturday,” says BBC Sport football editor Phil McNulty.
“It’s hard to see Lampard surviving a defeat, but he’s not the primary target for supporters who are increasingly angry about the club’s continuing problems. Everton fan groups have owner Farhad Moshiri, the President Bill Kenwright and General Manager Denise Barrett-Baxendale in their sights.”
Former Premier League striker Chris Sutton believes Jones can turn things around at Southampton, provided there are more performances like the one against Manchester City.
“He needs time, he’s taken control of an absolute mess,” he said on BBC Radio 5 Live.
“The negativity really took over after the loss to Forest when they had no shot on target. After the weekend win [over Crystal Palace in the FA Cup] there was still skepticism.
“If they can play like they did [against Manchester City] with that intensity, they’ll stay up, and that’s a big ‘if’.”
A sit-down protest is planned after Saturday’s game at Goodison Park, with a large-scale spectacle of banners expressing Everton’s displeasure.
Meanwhile, Moyes and West Ham face a tougher task at the Wolves side who are showing signs of improvement under new boss Julen Lopetegui.
Since the former Sevilla boss’s appointment on November 5, Wolves have taken four points from four games, and losing to Arsenal and Manchester United has come as no shock.
A win for the Hammers would be important as it would save them three points of trouble and give them confidence before they welcome Moyes’ former club to Everton on January 21.
What are the managers saying?
As the final four teams face off this weekend, here’s what their managers had to say recently:
Southampton boss Jones: “The performances have always been there, they’ve built and grown. It won’t happen overnight – I’m not a miracle worker. It will take time.”
Everton manager Lampard: “I’m very aware of what I came to do in this job. I want to succeed at this club. Any challenges that come my way, I will take them on and really enjoy them.”
West Ham boss Moyes: “I think the West Ham supporters have been incredibly supportive. They’ve seen what’s happened here over the last three years and would probably argue against the change of manager at the club.
“They are desperate for us to do well, and desperate for the manager to succeed. We have to fight, do better, play better and find a way to win games, which is key.”
The boss of the Lopetegui wolves: “We are improving, believing more in ourselves and are ready for a long and difficult race.
“We have to be ready to arrive at the last minute, believe in ourselves, knowing that we are going to have a lot of difficulties, but step by step we will continue to improve.”
Who do you think will stay up?
It’s, of course, the fans who know their team better than anyone, so who do you think will go down at the end of the season and who will come out on top?
Predict how you see the 2022-23 season final table shaping up below.