The English Premier League is fast approaching the midseason mark and there have been some surprises at the top of the table. Manchester United have looked mortal while Manchester City have been scoring at will. Liverpool ascended from a poor showing last season, and much more surprisingly, so have Newcastle.
In advance of Week 17's clashes around the EPL, here are four teams at the top of the table that can expect three points on Saturday.
Fulham vs. Manchester City
Like their counterparts from Manchester, Man City will take on one of the EPL's worst teams when they visit 13-point Fulham. City are coming off a 6-3 trouncing of league-leading Arsenal at Etihad Stadium and look downright fearsome.
Fulham have lost seven of their last eight matches and they'll be in for a long day at Craven Cottage. Their leaky defence has been their weakest link, and the 30 goals they've allowed is tied for worst in the league with Sunderland.
Man City lead the Premier League goal difference table by a comfortable margin with their robust plus-29 goal differential, which is thanks in large part to their potent attack. Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and Alvaro Negredo have already combined for 28 goals between them.
Despite losing Aguero to a calf injury in the win over Arsenal, City have more than enough scoring to trounce the Badgers and keep pace at the top of the table. They will also tie Arsenal in advance of the Gunners' tussle with Chelsea on Dec. 23.
Crystal Palace vs. Newcastle
The long-suffering Magpies have ascended near the top of the table this season and they visit a struggling side in Crystal Palace next. After a strong 2011-12 campaign, Newcastle placed 16th last season. Now on 27 points, they are sixth in the EPL and just ahead of Man United.
Striker Loic Remy has eight goals on the season but missed a pair of golden opportunities in the 1-1 draw against Southampton on Dec. 14, including one that was cleared off the line.
Will Newcastle finish in the top six?
Despite the dud, he received a vote of confidence from legendary French striker Thierry Henry. Speaking on BBC's Match of the Day, Henry cautioned against panic over Remy's rough match:
The first one, I am not that bothered about it because you have to give credit to the defender on the line...(Remy) will tell you himself he should have done better...But we've all been in that position where we miss that type of goal. I'm sure that the Newcastle fans will forgive him (via The Chronicle's Lee Ryder).
So the sky isn't falling on Newcastle just yet and Remy is likely to rebound soon. Though Palace have won three of their last five matches and are coming off a strong showing in their 2-1 defeat against Chelsea, the Eagles struggle mightily to score goals. They have just 11 through 16 matches.
Look for Newcastle to snag the victory at Selhurst Park and hold on to sixth place as they try to crack the tier of teams at the top.
Liverpool vs. Cardiff
After a disastrous result in 2012-13, the Reds have gotten back on track behind stellar play at home. Liverpool have seven wins in eight tries at Anfield and they bring Cardiff in next.
The Bluebirds have an anaemic offensive attack with only a dozen goals on the season, and they have been blanked in eight of their 16 matches. Peter Whittingham notched a brilliant winner to beat West Brom in their last match, so that gives a glimmer of hope for their scoring.
However, Liverpool have been ludicrously stingy at home, yielding only five goals at Anfield so far, and don't expect Cardiff to come up with any brilliance suddenly. Liverpool will earn three points and leapfrog Arsenal for the time being.
Manchester United vs. West Ham
United are coming off a big 3-0 victory over Aston Villa, which pushed them to 25 points on the season and snapped their four-game winless streak. They will seek to stay within spitting distance of the top four when they host West Ham, who are barely treading water and trying to keep their noses above the relegation line.
The Hammers have been dreadful since the Oct. 6 victory over Spurs, having posted five losses and three draws since then. Excepting their 3-0 trouncing of Fulham on Nov. 30, West Ham have just three goals in that span.
Meanwhile United are still trying to get up off the canvas after a tough start. To do so, they will have to find their form at Old Trafford where they have only three wins and eight goals in eight opportunities.
Danny Welbeck got things cooking with a double in the first half versus the Villans on Dec. 14, and that could have been just the remedy for United's scoring going forward. That momentum will carry over to their home pitch, and Man U will roll against a weak opponent.
With each of these four sides earning three points, it will make for a very happy Christmas for them at the top of the table.