Avoiding relegation is tricky when you've got ailing centre-halves, dressing-room fissures and the FA Cup final to negotiate
Roberto Martínez claims to enjoy eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night – "it's my Spanish genetics", jokes Wigan's manager – but it would be no surprise if he suffered the odd nightmare revolving around the FA Cup final. Wonderful as it is for Wigan to be facing Manchester City at Wembley this historic moment could hardly have arrived at a worse time.
Five points adrift in third–bottom place, Martínez's side have a game in hand on their rivals but must play Swansea at home four days before the final and Arsenal away three days afterwards. The fear is that players will become obsessed with avoiding injury against Swansea and could well be fatigued at The Emirates.
As well practised Houdinis, Wigan can only benefit from the experience of embroilment in previous relegation skirmishes but Martínez will be worried that their influential and experienced defender Maynor Figueroa is expected to miss the remainder of the season with a groin injury.
Realistically, staying up will require a minimum of three positive results; at West Brom this weekend, against Swansea and at home to Aston Villa on the final day.
Seven French players featured in Newcastle United's 6-0 home defeat by Liverpool last Saturday with five having been imported from Ligue One only in January. A matter of weeks ago this technically accomplished Gallic contingent were seen as testimony to the brilliance of Graham Carr, Newcastle's chief scout, but now too many appear afflicted by severe culture shock and are surrounded by accusations that they lack the stomach for a relegation scrap.
The problem is complicated by suggestions of dressing room tensions between a dominant Francophone clique who regard the politically influential Yohan Cabaye as their leader and the English speaking minority. With Cabaye dividing opinion – the France midfielder is capable of game changing excellence but currently seems burnt out and is reputedly moody – Fabricio Coloccini's impending return from a long-term back injury cannot come soon enough.
Saturday's reunion with St James' Park old boys Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan and Sam Allardyce at Pardew's old club West Ham threatens to prove tricky, but a subsequent visit to QPR looks winnable ahead of an awkward denouement at home against Arsenal. As if being forced to communicate with several key players via an interpreter was not bad enough, Pardew could do without a shoulder injury having sidelined Tim Krul, his Holland goalkeeper, for the rest of the season. Meanwhile the manager must pray Hatem Ben Arfa's suspect hamstring allows him to provoke panic among opposing defences.
Paul Lambert's young team may be in confident mood after pulverising Sunderland but the fixture list looks to have been cruel. First comes a tense trip to the club Lambert transformed but departed amid bitter acrimony last summer – Norwich City. To make matters worse, Chris Hughton's side are in trouble too so need points; as do Wigan, Villa's final day destination. Inbetween comes the small matter of a home date with Champions League chasing Chelsea. But all is not lost; in Christian Benteke – whose hat-trick against Sunderland took his goal tally in all competitions this season to 22 – Lambert possesses one of the Premier League's most feared, and gifted, strikers. Even better he is so physically intimidating that opposing defenders have dubbed him "concrete Christian".
If only Paolo Di Canio could rewind the years and pull on a red and white shirt, Sunderland's survival would be all but assured. Instead a side brought back down to earth by Monday's 6-1 thrashing at Aston Villa following a mini-renaissance remain woefully under-staffed in attack. It does not help that Stéphane Sessègnon, the Benin forward and the club's most creative player, is suspended for the final three games – at home to Stoke and Southampton and away at Spurs – following his sending off at Villa.
Sunderland are appealing that red card but if this gesture proves forlorn Di Canio will have to conjure up some alchemy from somewhere. In the absence of Sessègnon and the injured Steven Fletcher, Danny Graham is the squad's sole fit senior forward, although it is hoped Connor Wickham will shortly recover from calf trouble. Sessègnon, though, is the only "fantasy" player in a team worryingly short on imagination.
The good news for Chris Hughton is that Norwich have 38 points, one more than Sunderland, Villa and Newcastle. The bad news is that his two, often impressive, first-choice centre halves, Michael Turner and Sébastian Bassong, are doubtful for Villa's visit on Saturday with groin and knee injuries respectively. With Norwich having taken only two points from their past nine away games it seems imperative they beat either Paul Lambert's Villa or West Brom at Carrow Road before heading to Manchester City. Unbeaten in their past seven home league games, 28 of Norwich's 38 points have been collected on Norfolk soil. But with goals hard to come by they have relied heavily on Bassong and Turner to pinch points courtesy of mean defending.