Aston Villa and Leicester hold the aces as the battle to beat the drop hots up

Five teams are battling it out to avoid being the last club to drop into the Premier League relegation zone, with just three games remaining.

Queens Park Rangers and Burnley could see their relegation to the Championship confirmed at the weekend if they fail to win, although QPR could be given a lifeline if they pick up a point and one, or both, of Hull City - who face Burnley - or Leicester City lose.

Either way, it is looking like curtains for QPR and Burnley, which would leave Sunderland, Hull, Leicester, Newcastle United and Aston Villa fighting to stay away from the dreaded 18th position.

Current form suggests both Leicester and Aston Villa can continue to climb away from the bottom three, while Hull and Sunderland have also ground out vital wins in recent weeks. The one team in obvious free-fall is Newcastle, with eight consecutive defeats - including last Saturday's 3-0 reverse at Nigel Pearson's Leicester - dragging them ever nearer to the trapdoor, from a position of relative safety in February.

This weekend sees Newcastle welcome West Bromwich Albion to St James' Park, where the toxic atmosphere is sure to heap more pressure on John Carver's men, and it remains to be seen whether this week's clear-the-air talks will make any material difference to results on the pitch.

Tim Sherwood's Aston Villa entertain ninth-placed West Ham United on Saturday, having won two of their last three league games, with a very welcome FA Cup semi-final win over Liverpool sandwiched in between. With Sam Allardyce's Hammers winning only two of their last 13 league games and looking like they have their minds on the beach, the smart money is on Villa continuing their good form.

Leicester City have also hit the headlines in recent weeks with five wins from their last six games, making them undoubtedly the form team at the bottom. They welcome Southampton to the King Power Stadium on Saturday, whose European ambitions have been dented by only one win in the last five games. 

Hull City travel to Turf Moor to face Burnley on Saturday, and could relegate the Lancashire club if they take all three points. The Tigers had won their previous two games before Monday night's 3-1 defeat at home to Arsenal, but four consecutive defeats for Burnley suggests they already know their fate.

The final game to influence the relegation battle this weekend is Sunderland's trip to Everton for the lunchtime kick off on Saturday. Everton's form has picked up in recent weeks, although they lost 3-2 at Aston Villa last weekend, while Sunderland were claiming a priceless 2-1 win at home to Southampton. The Black Cats' main advantage in pursuit of the teams above them - Sunderland are currently in the last relegation spot, one point behind Hull - is that they have a game in hand over all of them, although that is an away fixture at Arsenal.

Therefore, Dick Advocaat will be looking to take maximum points from his next two fixtures against Everton and a crunch home game with Leicester, as their final two outings are that trip to the Emirates and a last day encounter at champions Chelsea.

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