The best thing about a closely contested table like the Premier League's heading into Matchday 18 is how it makes every match more important. Whether it's the title chase, European race or avoiding a relegation battle, each club already has a clear motivation.
As for the biggest storyline to emerge from Saturday's action, it's undoubtedly Liverpool's move to the top of the table with a win over Cardiff. It may not last with a clash between Arsenal and Chelsea looming, but the Reds lead the way at least for the time being.
Knowing that, let's check out how the table looks after the first batch of matches for Week 17. It's followed by a list of results and a review of the matches.
|Date||Home Club||Road Club||Score|
|Dec. 21||Crystal Palace||Newcastle||0-3|
|Dec. 21||Fulham||Manchester City||2-4|
|Dec. 21||Manchester United||West Ham||3-1|
|Dec. 21||Stoke||Aston Villa||2-1|
|Dec. 21||West Brom||Hull||1-1|
Liverpool put together a textbook performance to cruise past Cardiff. The Reds scored three goals in the opening half, including a pair from Luis Suarez to continue his remarkable run of form, en route to an easy win and a spot atop the table.
BBC Sport passed along Suarez's comments after the match:
Luis Suarez: "We played v well in 1st half. It's too early to say that (we can win the title). It's important we work for the next game"#LFC— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) December 21, 2013
Manchester City almost suffered a major meltdown against Fulham. After building a 2-0 halftime lead it appeared they would roll to three easy points. Instead, the Cottagers fought back and received an own goal from Vincent Kompany to get back level.
Luckily for City, they woke up from their early second-half slumber in time for Jesus Navas and James Milner to each strike late. It would have been a tough pill to swallow if they didn't get all three points, but they deserve credit for bouncing back to avoid that fate.
There are still concerns about their road form, as Opta Joe points out:
0 - Manchester City have failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their last seven Premier League matches away from home. Issues.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 21, 2013
Manchester United enjoyed a rare comfortable win as they continue on their quest to climb the table after a shaky start. Danny Welbeck, Adnan Januzaj and Ashley Young scored, as they moved within three points of the top five.
Which club scored the most impressive win on Saturday?
Yohan Cabaye maintained his strong form for Newcastle, scoring just inside the half-hour mark to spark a solid win over Crystal Palace. They also received an own goal from Palace's Daniel Gabbidon, and Hatem Ben Arfa converted from the penalty spot late to cap the win.
After a mundane opening half, the encounter between Stoke and Villa really picked up after the break. Charlie Adam gave Stoke the lead, and Libor Kozak equalized before Peter Crouch netted the winner 20 minutes from time for the Potters.
A win ensures Stoke maintain some breathing room ahead of the relegation zone. Villa are two points behind their Matchday 17 counterparts, but are still looking safe as of now.
The other two matches on Saturday features clubs in the bottom half of the table, both ending in draws and doing little to help any of the sides involved in terms of the table in the short term.
Hull looked destined for a road victory over West Brom, but Matej Vydra scored inside the final 10 minutes to get a point for the Baggies.
Both Sunderland and Norwich were able to create some scoring chances in their clash, but the finishing was far from clinical, leading to a scoreless draw.
The action continues with Southampton vs. Tottenham and Swansea vs. Everton on Sunday, before Arsenal and Chelsea wrap up the matchday on Monday.