Premier League relegation battle heads into final week
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — And then there were six.
It wasn't so long ago that the fight to avoid relegation from the world's richest division went as high as ninth or 10th place in the 20-team English Premier League.
Now there's little more than a week left of the season and, unless something truly remarkable happens, three of West Bromwich Albion, Stoke, Southampton, Swansea, Huddersfield and West Ham will soon be preparing for life in the second-tier League Championship.
West Brom — in the Premier League since 2010 — is unbeaten in its last four matches under caretaker manager Darren Moore but still looks doomed in last place, five points from safety with two games left.
As for the rest, five points separates 15th-place West Ham and next-to-last Stoke.
Here's a look at the task facing them:
STOKE (19th place; 30 points)
The team most in trouble, after a decade in the Premier League.
Hired as the new manager in January, Paul Lambert has made Stoke more solid — it even held Liverpool to a goalless draw at Anfield last weekend — but hasn't been able to turn draws into wins. The victory over Huddersfield in his first game in charge remains his only one in 13, seven of which were draws.
Stoke has two games remaining, at home to Crystal Palace and away to fourth-to-last Swansea, and probably needs to win both.
Switzerland playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri would be among those unlikely to stay at Stoke in the event of relegation.
SOUTHAMPTON (18th place, 32 points)
A victory over Bournemouth last weekend was its first in nearly three months. Not only did it give Southampton renewed hope by trimming the gap to safety to one point, it dragged more teams into the relegation scrap.
The team has more potential match-winners than Stoke — striker Charlie Austin and playmaker Dusan Tadic, for example — but hasn't been in this situation in its six seasons in the top flight since 2012.
Mark Hughes has been the manager since mid-March. He was fired by Stoke in January, with the club in the relegation zone.
SWANSEA (17th place; 33 points)
The honeymoon period under Carlos Carvalhal is over, with Swansea having failed to win its last five league games.
The Welsh club has a kind run of remaining games, however, starting away to Bournemouth — a team with nothing to play for — before home matches against relegation rivals Southampton and Stoke. Beating Southampton could be enough to secure an eighth straight season in the Premier League.
Swansea has an extra incentive to preserve its place in the division: It could be joined next season by Welsh rival Cardiff, which is on course to clinch promotion this weekend.
HUDDERSFIELD (16th place; 35 points)
It looked like all three promoted teams would be staying up for only the third time in the Premier League's 26-year history, with Newcastle, Brighton and Huddersfield starting confidently and picking up wins at various points after Christmas to steer clear of the bottom three.
Huddersfield has been sucked into trouble, though, and has a nasty final week of fixtures: Away to Manchester City, away to Chelsea, and home to Arsenal in Arsene Wenger's last Premier League game in charge of the London club.
One point may yet be enough for David Wagner's side. But where will that come from?
WEST HAM (15th place; 35 points)
The most high-profile team in the relegation battle — and potentially the one with most to lose. Surely the Olympic Stadium cannot be hosting second-tier football next season?
That won't happen if West Ham wins maybe one of its remaining three games, starting away on Saturday to a Leicester team in poor form in recent weeks. Then come home games against Manchester United and Everton.
Manager David Moyes will be looking for a strong finish to boost his chances of keeping his job. His short-term deal ends at the end of the season.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80