The English Premier League is getting ready to shift into the new year, and the 2013 EPL table is starting to become a fight for the top spots in the league.
With five teams within three points of each other at the top, it figures to be a dogfight through the end of the season. Liverpool may be dominating the table now, but all it takes is a hot streak from another club below them to make a run at the No. 1 position.
Week 17 will come to a close when Arsenal and Chelsea square off on Dec. 23, but here's what the table looks like just before the match. Regardless of the outcome of the match, the outlook for Week 18 is bright.
Newcastle vs. Stoke City
The disparity between teams in Week 18 is a bit larger than it has been in previous weeks, but there are still two matches between strong squads that will have a big impact on the table. The first one is between Newcastle and Stoke City.
Both teams were winners in Week 17. Newcastle ousted Crystal Palace, 3-0, while Stoke City took down Aston Villa, 2-1. Neither squad faced much competition in their matches, so Week 18's match will be that much more interesting as a result.
Stoke City are three points behind Southampton for the No. 9 position on the table, and a win against Newcastle would be a step in the right direction toward catching them. Southampton lost to Tottenham in Week 17, so Stoke City are in a good position.
A win for Newcastle would be huge, as it would likely pull them closer to Chelsea. Chelsea are three points ahead of Newcastle for the No. 5 position.
Man City vs. Liverpool
This is by far—without question—the top match of Week 18. Heck, it even ranks up there with the top matches of the season.
Liverpool, No. 1 on the table, and Man City, No. 2 on the table, have a lot riding on this match. The two teams won't go head-to-head again for quite some time, and a win for Man City would be instrumental to their climb to the No. 1 position.
Losing to Liverpool would put them in a bigger hole than the one-point hole they're in. While that doesn't mean that Man City won't catch Liverpool, it goes without saying that it will certainly be much more difficult.
The teams with the two best goal differentials in the Premier League will play a tough match throughout. The winner will be the team that really earns it, as these two squads are too polished to make mistakes.
Given the disparity in Week 18, there are a few matches that need to be on "blowout alert." These are games that feature top squads against low-ranking ones—the most obvious of which is Everton against Sunderland.
Sunderland, the No. 20 team on the table, have almost no chance of taking down Everton, the No. 4 team. In fact, Sunderland have just two wins all season to go with four draws and 11 losses.
Everton have the firepower on offense and defensive capabilities to have this match wrapped up by the end of the first half.
Arsenal, No. 3, and West Ham, No. 17, will take part in a very similar match. West Ham have just three wins to go with five draws and nine losses, and their chances of playing on par with Arsenal are slim to none.
Should either West Ham or Sunderland pull out a victory, the top of the table will surely see a shake-up for Week 19. That appears like an unlikely situation, however.
Underrated Match of the Week
Norwich City and Fulham may not be playing for much at this point in the season, but that shouldn't stop the two from playing a competitive match in Week 18. Fans may not want to watch two teams with little to play for this late in the year, but big fans of the sport will appreciate the closely contested game.
Neither team secured a victory in Week 17 (Norwich City tied). The teams have similar goal differentials—negative-14 for Norwich and negative-17 for Fulham—so it will come down to which team can make the most stops defensively.
Capitalizing on mistakes will be the key for both squads, as each team certainly makes plenty of them. Norwich may be the popular choice because of their No. 14 position on the table, but No. 19 Fulham have a real shot at taking them down.