Premier League: What if the dead men aren't actually dead?

Tim Sherwood's Villa have actually lost four of six league games since he took charge
Tim Sherwood's Villa have actually lost four of six league games since he took charge

After surprising wins from both Queens Park Rangers and Leicester at the weekend, Andy Brassell looks at the relegation picture and wonders if it is indeed all over yet...

"They still feel like an untrustworthy horse to back, but Leicester have a better looking run-in than many of their rivals, and meetings with West Brom, Burnley, Sunderland and QPR mean it’s still just about in their own hands."

Spanish sports daily Marca has many fine attributes, but the use of understatement is rarely one of them. After Cristiano Ronaldo's five goals in Real Madrid's 9-1 tanking of Granada on Sunday, its headline simply read "Resurrección" - Resurrection. It may well have been Easter Sunday, but how exactly a forward who had 31 La Liga goals before kick-off needed resurrecting is a matter for some pondering.

Anyway, the word's use would have been far more appropriate in a couple of cases at the bottom of the Premier League at the weekend. It's hard to judge whether Queen's Park Rangers' emphatic victory at West Bromwich Albion or Leicester City's rather more nervy home win over West Ham was more of a surprise. If you remember our last look at the relegation picture at the start of the international break, this column wasn't expecting either of them.

The race to avoid the bottom three was pretty interesting anyway, but the possibility that the last two maybe aren't quite finished makes it absolutely fascinating. It's especially the case given that the two this column thought were near enough safe, Aston Villa and Hull City, are tripping over themselves to get involved again. Villa have lost four of six league games under Tim Sherwood. As for Steve Bruce's Hull, Villa and QPR are the only two sides they've beaten in their last 11 league fixtures.

What also promises to keep the tension going is that five of the bottom six have very similar goal differences, ranging between -20 and -23 (Hull have the relative advantage of only being -14). So it's all up for grabs, starting with QPR making a return visit to the surrounds of Birmingham for a meeting with Villa tonight.

Even a week ago, you'd have said that this fixture was pretty easy to call. It's not Villa that have changed in that period, even if the three successive wins at the start of March rather overstated the extent of their recovery, with one of the victories coming the FA Cup. They performed reasonably in defeat at Manchester United on Saturday, with Old Trafford hardly a venue they would have expected to take points from looking at their remaining fixtures anyway.

It's QPR that should be our focus. They were simply so convincing at West Brom; there were no real catches to the win. It was simply a performance of real authority that absolutely nobody saw coming, and which reminded us that Chris Ramsey does have some very good players on the books.

The pity is that one of those talents, Chile's Eduardo Vargas, will now miss this one and the entire rest of the season having sustained a knee injury minutes after striking that fine opener at The Hawthorns. Yet Charlie Austin is still firing - hitting his 16th of the season on Saturday - and arguably their best player apart from him this season, Leroy Fer, is close to a return from injury.

Leicester's win was maybe even more of a shock. Nigel Pearson's men have shown such a predilection for shooting themselves in the foot that when David Nugent missed the chance to put them 2-0 up and Cheikou Kouyaté equalised shortly afterwards, few batted an eyelid.

They still feel like an untrustworthy horse to back, but Leicester have a better looking run-in than many of their rivals, and meetings with West Brom, Burnley, Sunderland and QPR mean it's still just about in their own hands.

Their total of 22 points does look a low one, though, even in context. QPR have just three more, but that means they're a tantalising three away from safety as stands. It might be too much to ask for both Leicester and QPR to avoid the drop, but relegation trebles without Ramsey's team in them still pay well.

A Villa/Burnley/Leicester bottom three is available at 15.5, or Burnley/Hull/Leicester is 12.5. If you don't dare back against the imposing Pearson, maybe Villa/Burnley/QPR at 16.5 is your way to go.

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