Relegation showdown: Swansea v. Saints

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If you see a Swansea City or Southampton fan over the next 24 hours, give them a hug.

They’ll likely be a nervous wreck as their entire season comes down to a 90-minute game in South Wales.

On Tuesday the Swans and Saints clash in what is basically a relegation playoff (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online on NBCSports.com), with the teams level on points with two games of the season to go and the Swans in the final relegation place due to their inferior goal differential. Saints are out of the drop zone by the skin of their teeth.

The main permutation is clear: if a team wins the game at the Liberty Stadium they will be all but safe from relegation.

In essence this is a $230 million game, with similar implications to the winner and loser to the Championship Playoff final which seals promotion to the Premier League from the second-tier. The PL doesn’t have a relegation playoff like the Bundesliga or other leagues, but this game is about as close as it comes to a straight shootout.

For both cities of Swansea and Southampton, their teams losing their Premier League status is a huge deal. Both local economies rely heavily on their clubs being in the PL and there will be a huge impact on not only the wider community but also the clubs themselves as several employees will likely be let go if their team is relegated.

Players from both clubs will have to compartmentalize the fact that the social media team filming their pre-game warmups may well be out of a job by the final whistle. Their decisions on the pitch on Tuesday will determine the overall mood in two regional cities (both roughly the same size with a population of around 300,000) in the UK for the next 12 months. Each cross, tackle, header and shot will have that bit of extra pressure on it.

This winner takes all battle is about much more than just securing a place in the Premier League.

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If it’s a draw, Swansea are in the driving seat as they host already-relegated Stoke City on the final day with Saints hosting all-conquering Manchester City. With Huddersfield only three points above Swansea and Saints, they’re still in the relegation mix too but Saints beating Man City on the final day and hoping Huddersfield lose to both Chelsea and Arsenal in their final two games seems like a long shot.

A draw would be a decent result for Swansea but playing for a draw is a dangerous game for the Swans and Carlos Carvalhal. Especially given their recent form with no wins in their last seven games and no victory in the PL since early March.

“We have two more games and a big opportunity on Tuesday. The game will start 0-0 and when everything is in your hands you must believe. If someone had said when I first took over that we would have it in our hands at this stage, I would’ve taken it,” Carvalhal said.

For Saints and Mark Hughes, they’re in better form than Swansea and if they win they know that all they need to do on the final day of the season is avoid an eight-goal swing in goal differential. Saints are unbeaten in three and should have sealed back-to-back wins but a 96th minute deflected goal from Everton on Saturday (typical of their season) stole two points from them and set up this mammoth clash which will shape both clubs irrevocably for the foreseeable future.

Add into the mix that both clubs have been on incredible journeys from the depths of the lower leagues — amid financial ruin and near extinction in the past decade or so — to the upper echelons of the PL which led to European campaigns, and both teams have certainly been worse off than if they are relegated to the second-tier this week.

But that won’t make an entire season of struggle any easier to swallow if they fail to seize the moment on Tuesday and take a huge leap towards saving themselves.

Swansea have spent the last seven seasons in the PL. Southampton the last six. Both are often lauded for their player recruitment, attractive playing style and massively overachieving. None of that makes one bit of difference now. Both clubs have lost their way over the past 12-18 months and now past success means nothing. It’s all about Tuesday.

This is it.

So yeah, give a Swans and Saints fan a hug, or maybe a beer or two, for their date with destiny and to help them cope in their time of need.

The agony and ecstasy of the relegation battle will be clear for all to see in Swansea on Tuesday.

For all neutrals it will be essential viewing. Full of drama, heartache, jubilation and high stakes.

For anyone connected with either club it will be like watching a horror movie in slow motion for almost two hours.