Focus turns to the battle to beat the drop
The battle for Premier League survival takes centre stage this weekend, with the latest round of fixtures providing proverbial six-pointers aplenty.
Six of those sides currently sweating on their top-flight status are set to square off against one another, with Saturday shaping up to be a potentially defining day.
Elsewhere, the race for European qualification remains in full swing and two of the most in-form performers in the country go head-to-head at Anfield.
With the FA Cup quarter-finals disrupting the fixture list somewhat, there are just four fixtures on Saturday, but they all have plenty riding on them.
Queens Park Rangers remain rooted to the foot of the division heading into the weekend, but a crucial victory over Southampton last time out means they are now within sight of safety. Four points separate Harry Redknapp's men from 17th spot, and they could take a sizeable step towards bridging that gap in a home date with Sunderland. The Black Cats will arrive at Loftus Road perched six points above the drop zone, but without a win in five and looking anxiously over their shoulder.
The same can be said for Norwich City, who are by no means out of the woods yet. The Canaries boast an eight-point cushion on the bottom three, but they could easily be hauled back in should the strugglers find a bit of form. Taking that into account, they will be desperate to move a step closer to the fabled 40-point mark at Carrow Road on Saturday, while forcing one of those currently in and around them deeper into the mire. Southampton have been unable to edge themselves clear of trouble all season, and a record which has seen them collect just 10 points on the road does not bode well ahead of their trip to Norfolk.
While Norwich and Southampton have their head above water at present, Reading and Aston Villa are in danger of going under. Both occupy a standing inside the relegation zone and both know the clock is ticking. Reading have slumped back to second-from-bottom, with three straight defeats doing little to aid their cause. Villa, meanwhile, sit 18th, with just one win having been secured since the middle of December. Only goal difference is keeping them inside the bottom three, but the importance of taking something - anything - from their visit to the Madejski Stadium will not be lost on Paul Lambert and his young side.
In contrast to the previous three fixtures, West Bromwich Albion and Swansea City look set to enjoy a Saturday afternoon stroll. The Baggies have done enough to ensure that they will remain at English football's top table for at least another year, with their efforts over the first half of the season keeping them inside the top 10. Swansea have picked up as many points from their 28 games to date as their weekend opponents and have the Capital One Cup safely tucked away in the trophy cabinet. The Swans will feel that a top-five finish is still there to be shot at, but will also be aware that The Hawthorns has been an unhappy hunting ground for many of their rivals this season.
The first of two fixtures on Sunday sees Newcastle United play host to Stoke City. The Magpies will go into the game on the back of an energy-sapping midweek trip to Russia in the Europa League, but know they cannot afford to write any games off at this stage. Having suggested that Norwich and Sunderland remain in a relegation dogfight, Newcastle must also be included in that particular mix. A frustrating, and disappointing, campaign has them just six points clear of the trapdoor, but slowly finding their feet after collecting three wins in their last five. Stoke would appear to be safe, but have an alarming dip in form to address. Tony Pulis' Potters have taken maximum points from just one of their last nine top-flight matches, having previously looked like decent bets to end the campaign inside the top half.
Super Sunday goes to Anfield for the final game of the weekend, with Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur locking horns in what promises to be another entertaining encounter at the business end of the Premier League standings. Liverpool have picked up back-to-back wins to keep themselves in the hunt for a European spot - scoring nine goals in the process and conceding none. Luis Suarez has once again been their talisman this season, with the Uruguayan frontman having burst through the 20-goal mark and to the top of the scoring charts. He will, however, come up against another leading light on Merseyside this weekend, with Spurs' Gareth Bale in the form of his life at present. The Welsh winger is on a remarkable scoring run and plenty will be made of his efforts to try and outshine Suarez - with both men considered to be leading contenders for the 2013 PFA Player of the Year award.