By Martyn Herman
AS the Premier League season heads towards its final third a two-horse title race is in danger of being overshadowed by an intriguing relegation survival battle featuring half the table.
With leaders Chelsea and champions Manchester City matching each other stride for stride, neutrals could miss a few episodes of that particular drama and return with the plot unchanged.
Turn away from events at the other end of the table, however, and the twisted storyline may have altered course.
Only nine points separate bottom club Leicester City (17) with 11th placed Stoke City (26) while only three points cover the bottom six.
Saturday sees two of the clubs in the mire meet in a so-called ‘six pointer’ when 17th placed Burnley (20 points) take on 15th placed Crystal Palace (20) at Turf Moor (5pm).
Sean Dyche’s Burnley, promoted last season, have hit form at an opportune time, drawing with Manchester City and Newcastle United and beating Queens Park Rangers in their last three league games. Palace came from behind to beat Tottenham Hotspur last week in Alan Pardew’s first game in charge.
Both clubs will see the game as a massive opportunity to strike a direct blow against one of the sides around them and edge towards the predicted 36-point safety target.
With Pardew taking the reins at his old club Crystal Palace in the wake of Neil Warnock’s sacking and former Palace boss Tony Pulis replacing Alan Irvine at West Bromwich Albion the managerial merry-go-round has started.
Aston Villa’s Paul Lambert will be looking over his shoulder, as will Harry Redknapp at Queens Park Rangers.
Lambert’s side are 13th, have managed only 11 goals all season, none in the last four and are three points above the drop zone. After a 1-0 loss at Leicester last week Villa fans set up an online petition to have Lambert sacked and more woe at home to Liverpool on Saturday (5pm) would add a few more names.
Redknapp’s 19th placed QPR host Manchester United at Loftus Road (5pm), which has been a refuge for the London side, who have won 19 points at home and none in 10 away games.
Away from the muddied waters of the bottom half, things are more straightforward, at least as far as the title race.
Chelsea, who edged two points clear of City last weekend, visit Swansea City on Saturday (5pm), while City face an in-and-out Arsenal side at home on Sunday (6pm).