Sunderland-Stoke City Preview
Being relegated is, by far, the worst fate a Premier League club can suffer.
Sometimes it is difficult to quantify just how significant a hit a club's finances, and their history, can take if they are dropped from the top flight. But it will take on greater emphasis in a few weeks since a bottom-three finish will cost an estimated £100 million in lost television revenue with the league's new contract set to begin in 2016-17.
Sunderland have managed to escape the drop each of the past few seasons, and they'll be fighting for the Premier League lives again with Saturday's clash against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium.
The Black Cats (7-10-17) enter Saturday's clash hovering just above the relegation zone with 31 points, clear of 18th-place Norwich City on goal difference, though owning a match in hand. With four contests remaining, Sam Allardyce's men still need a few more positive results.
Last Sunday's scoreless draw against Arsenal was a good start as the club neutralised Arsenal's potent attack and must do likewise against a wounded Stoke City team who have one win in their last seven matches (1-2-4).
"I've known (Stoke City manager) Mark Hughes for many, many years through my work in the Premier League and he also played in my era, and he will not be a happy man believe you me," Allardyce said. "I think everybody can see that from the expression on his face sat on the bench last weekend, but they were three big, big teams the played against - Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City - and we don't have anything like the size of squad and haven't spent the size of money they have.
"What we are is in good form at the moment and if play anything like we did at Norwich we will give them one hell of a game, but I would expect Mark will have Stoke really revved up and he will want to stop this very poor run of performances. ... But I do hope they're as bad as they have been in the last three games!"
The Potters (13-8-14) have been outscored 12-1 in losses to Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City on the bounce, all but scuttling any aspirations for playing in Europe next season. Stoke were overrun 4-0 by Manchester City last week as Kelechi Iheanacho struck for a second-half brace after first-half goals by Sergio Aguero and Francisco Fernando.
Austria international Marko Arnautovic has enjoyed a fine season for Stoke, but like the team, has struggled the past few weeks.
"In the last three weeks we've not done so well but we are now looking forward, to the next three weeks, and to getting some points," the striker said. "Every year we've set a new record for points. It's not all about reaching the record itself though, we need to get back to winning games because we are a good side and we need to show it again.
"We've shown that through the season but for the last three weeks our results have been bad. We need to change this and pick it up for this game."
Arnautovic also commented on the effort his side plans to give against Sunderland as the Black Cats fight to stave off relegation as the final few weeks of the season approach.
"Of course Sunderland can put more pressure on us, but we'll give everything because we want to win this game," he added. "It's a hard game for us, but it's also a hard game for them.
"They need to fight for something but we are at home and we want to win this game. It doesn't matter who comes here we need to win and get the points."
Sunderland won the reverse fixture 2-0 courtesy of goals from Patrick Van Aanholt and Duncan Watmore inside the final 10 minutes. Stoke played most of the second half with 10 men after Mike Dean issued defender Ryan Shawcross his second yellow card.