There is now only around a month to go until the end of the Premier League season, but there is still everything to play for at the bottom. As Fulham proved last weekend with their 2-1 win over Aston Villa, before which they had been written off, just one victory can reignite the hope of survival. They are still five points from safety, but with some winnable games on the horizon they are hopeful.
This Saturday sees one of the biggest bottom-half clashes all season as the Whites host Norwich City in the game that could see the bottom three doomed. With Cardiff City and Sunderland also in action, Sports Mole takes a look at the key players in some of the matches on Saturday.
1. Ashkan Dejagah vs. Nathan Redmond - Fulham vs. Norwich
Fulham, in general, have been steadily improving under new manager Felix Magath and although the German has just seven points from a possible 21 both his wins have come in the last four games. Interestingly, and probably as to be expected, it is the players with whom he has worked in the past that have impressed most recently. Lewis Holtby has been Fulham's creative spark but it is the impact of Ashkan Dejagah that could be key against Norwich.
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He scored the winner against Newcastle United, the equaliser against Everton and changed the game in Fulham's favour away to Aston Villa last weekend. Interestingly, his impact has been largely from the bench under Magath, who appears to see the Iranian as a player to bring on against tired legs. Whether he plays from the start or comes off the bench against Norwich, Martin Olsson will be up against it.
Similarly for the away side their best chance to win will be to take the game to Fulham's shaky defence, which has kept just one clean sheet in 18 games. One of their weakest areas all season has been left-back and Magath seems to prefer Fernando Amorebieta there. Should Nathan Redmond, who might move to the right of midfield under Neil Adams, get joy on the flank then the points could go the way of the away side.
2. John O'Shea vs. Romelu Lukaku - Sunderland vs. Everton
Sunderland have two more games to play than their fellow bottom two Fulham and Cardiff, but most of their remaining games are not particularly easy. On Saturday they take on Everton, the joint most in-form team in the Premier League, at the Stadium of Light. The Toffees have a real chance of usurping Arsenal into fourth place and the final Champions League spot and they are playing very well.
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Sunderland, on the other hand, are bottom of the form table with just one point from a possible 18. In that time they have also conceded 15 games, which makes Gus Poyet's selection of his defence all the more important. He decided to drop John O'Shea for the recent 5-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, and with that blow in mind could well recall his captain for Saturday's clash with Everton.
He will be up against one of the most dangerous strikers in the Premier League in Romelu Lukaku. The on-loan Chelsea man can bully the best of defenders and O'Shea will have his work cut out trying to lead the defence against his threat. Lukaku is not only strong and quick, but he possesses a good touch, which will mean the Irishman has to be willing to defend on three fronts. If Lukaku gets the better of his man Sunderland could be in for a long day.
3. Morgan Schneiderlin vs. Gary Medel - Southampton vs. Cardiff City
Cardiff look to be down and out after their disappointing 3-0 home defeat to Crystal Palace last weekend, and are now huge favourites to finish bottom of the pile. Things are now well out of their own hands, but while they are mathematically still in with a chance their manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will keep his players fighting. They face the daunting trip to Southampton on Saturday in a game where nothing other than a win will really do.
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With Southampton's high pressing game and Cardiff's breaking at pace strategy it will be important for both sides to take control of the midfield at the weekend. As such, the performance of the respective combative midfielders will be key to whichever side sees more of the ball. For the hosts, Morgan Schneiderlin has the ability to run things with his hard-tackling and tidy passing game.
Although Jordon Mutch has been one of Cardiff's better performers going forward in recent weeks, he will need support on Saturday from Gary Medel. The Chilean takes no prisoners and the direct battle between him and Schneiderlin will be an interesting thing to see. Should Schneiderlin come out on top then Cardiff might end up chasing the game.