Battle for EPL third and fourth places not for underdogs
It's an expected sight at the top of the English Premier League table.
Chelsea rule the roost, with Manchester City only two points behind.
As the season veers towards a two-horse race, another battle is simmering beneath it. The scramble for third and fourth spots is hotting up, as teams took turns to seize the initiative.
Six clubs eye the two coveted spots that guarantee Champions League action next term.
Southampton beat Manchester United at Old Trafford last week to overtake the Red Devils in third place.
Just over a month ago, it was West Ham who occupied that position.
Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool are closing in on the top four.
It is the presence of Southampton and West Ham that has the traditional powerhouses worried.
Whether the two underdogs can last the distance though, is another matter altogether.
The odds are stacked highly against them.
They don't wield similar financial muscle during transfer windows, they work around thin squads, and they lack experience in prolonged battles.
History won't decide the outcome, but it reveals the uphill fight the Saints and Hammers have on their hands.
Only Everton have finished in the top four in the last 10 years, outside of City, United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs.
West Ham have already taken a tumble that saw them drop to seventh place.
The festive period fixture pile-up took its toll on them. They have not won any of the four league games since Boxing Day.
The loss of two key players didn't help either.
Midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate has left for African Nations Cup duty. Forward Diafra Sakho was due to join his compatriot but was ruled out of the tournament with a back injury - the club's top scorer with seven league goals may be out for up to six weeks.
Southampton, on the other hand, bounced back from a recent bad patch of four straight defeats to win four out of their last five.
The foundation of their success this season is built on a formidable defence which has leaked the fewest goals in the top flight - 15 goals.
But manager Ronald Koeman is now paying the price for an over-reliance on the same players.
In the treatment room now are three of their best players - midfielders Victor Wanyama, Morgan Schneiderlin, and defender Toby Alderweireld.
Forward Sadio Mane has joined up with Senegal for the African Nations Cup, Maya Yoshida is with Japan at the Asian Cup while striker Jay Rodriguez is not yet back from a long-term injury.
For them to continue to hang on to where they are now will require an effort that appears beyond them. For West Ham, climbing back up the standings takes a miracle of sorts.
They may be the darlings of neutral fans but they are fighting a losing battle.
In the Premiership, entry into the race for top-four is by invitation only. It's often the usual suspects who show up.
United, despite the flak they are drawing recently, look to have enough quality to achieve their target of Champions League football next season.
Arsenal are powered by a sublime Alexis Sanchez who has single-handedly lifted the gloom off the Emirates Stadium.
Spurs appeared to have found their stride finally, while Liverpool are getting better.
These are the two underdogs who will challenge United and Arsenal for two remaining Champions League spots.
Fairy tales still happen. But dream on, West Ham and Southampton.