Newcastle United's hopes of avoiding becoming the biggest Premier League casualty since Leeds United were relegated in 2004 have been hit by an injury crisis that could have catastrophic consequences for the club. Alan Shearer's side go into their final match of the season, at Aston Villa on Sunday, needing to secure at least a point while hoping that Manchester United avoid victory at Hull City, who are one point above the Magpies with an inferior goal difference.
With full-backs Habib Beye and Jose Enrique both very doubtful and centre-back Sebastien Bassong suspended, Shearer could have only one member of his first-choice back four, Steven Taylor, available to contain a Villa side that is adept on the counter-attack and still has a chance of finishing in fifth place.
Villa goalkeeper Brad Friedel has warned Newcastle they will have to work extremely hard for what could be the most important victory in the club's history. "I know we've already qualified for the Europa League but we are professionals and we do want to do the best we can all the time, and we do want to secure that fifth spot," the American said.
With West Bromwich Albion already condemned to a return to The Championship, Newcastle are one of four clubs who will enter the final day in danger of filling the two other relegation places. Of the four, Middlesbrough have the toughest task, with Gareth Southgate's side obliged to win at West Ham United and hope that champions United beat Hull by a big enough margin for them to make up a four-goal deficit in terms of goal difference.
Sunderland are the best-placed in terms of points, but Ricky Sbragia's side have arguably the toughest final fixture with Chelsea, the visitors to the Stadium of Light, looking to sustain their recent form ahead of the following weekend's FA Cup final. The Wearsiders will do down if they lose and both Hull and Newcastle win.
Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink has promised that he will field all his top stars at Sunderland. "I don't want to rest a lot of people because they need to maintain their physical shape and also the way we want them to play," the Dutchman said. "If I rest too many people then I don't think it's good preparation for Wembley."
Aston Villa-Newcastle United, Bayern Munich-Stuttgart and Palmeiras-Sao Paulo are among the matches on the FIFA World Leagues Predictor's Round 36 menu. If you haven't already, be sure to sign up and take a shot at winning this weekend's prize.