Week 18 of the 2013-14 Barclays Premier League schedule is going to be a doozy, with all 20 clubs set to be in action on Boxing Day, December 26.
Following what was an extremely exciting weekend of games, we now have eight teams very much in contention for the league crown, with Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea leading the way, and reigning champions Manchester United somehow all the way back in eighth place.
And with so many matches with big implications on table positioning coming up over the rest of the holiday season, one has to believe there'll be significant movement during the next couple of weeks.
Heading into an all-important slate of matches, here's a look at the day's most intriguing tilts.
|Week 18 EPL Fixtures|
|Hull vs. Man Utd||12/26/2013||12:45 GMT/7.45 ET|
|Aston Villa vs. Crystal Palace||12/26/2013||15:00 GMT/10:00 ET|
|Cardiff vs. Southampton||12/26/2013||15:00 GMT/10:00 ET|
|Chelsea vs. Swansea||12/26/2013||15:00 GMT/10:00 ET|
|Everton vs. Sunderland||12/26/2013||15:00 GMT/10:00 ET|
|Newcastle vs. Stoke||12/26/2013||15:00 GMT/10:00 ET|
|Norwich vs. Fulham||12/26/2013||15:00 GMT/10:00 ET|
|Tottenham vs. West Brom||12/26/2013||15:00 GMT/10:00 ET|
|West Ham vs. Arsenal||12/26/2013||15:00 GMT/10:00 ET|
|Man City vs. Liverpool||12/26/2013||17:30 GMT/12.30 ET|
Manchester United at Hull City
For Manchester United and Hull City, the first 17 weeks of play have seen one team overachieve significantly, while the other has struggled to live up to expectations.
The Red Devils are among the game's most talented clubs, but have seemed unable to adapt to new manager David Moyes' style of play and, as such, have given up far too many goals in a good portion of their matches.
But after having outscored opponents 6-1 in a pair of victories in December, Man Utd have played well even without top scorer Robin van Persie on the field, and though there's been suggestion that he could be back soon, don't count on it:
This is a team in dire need of victories to climb back into contention for a Champions League berth, as Moyes' boys have given up far too many precious points against inferior opponents.
Hull City have shown an ability to compete well against top competition, as the Tigers reeled off an upset win over Liverpool earlier this season, but if Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Ryan Giggs play to the level that's expected of them, Man United will be too much for the home side to handle.
The Tigers have been near-perfect at KC Stadium this season, but at a certain point, the Red Devils will realize they can't drop many more winnable matches if they hope to win the league in 2014.
Swansea City at Chelsea
The Blues have been inconsistent this season, with a handful of impressive results, as well as just as many disappointing ones, but still remain a title contender during Jose Mourinho's first season back at Stamford Bridge.
On Boxing Day, they'll play a Swansea City group that has looked very average, yet seems capable of orchestrating an upset on the right day, as they've tied Liverpool already this season.
That being said, anything but a win for the Blues will be considered a serious disappointment, especially at home, where Mourinho has rarely lost during his legendary tenure with Chelsea.
First and foremost, getting offensive production out of the team's three top strikers in Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto'o and Demba Ba has to be considered a top priority, because it's tough to see the Blues actually winning the league this season without more of a threat up front.
Ultimately, Swans will have to play a conservative style against a very talented midfield and back end, because Chelsea has learned how to manage matches and turn them into victories without much help from the strikers.
Liverpool at Manchester City
In what will be undoubtedly the most entertaining and meaningful match of the day, the mighty Reds will head to Etihad Stadium to play a fellow league heavyweight in Manchester City.
Heading into this match, Manuel Pellegrini's club has looked very impressive recently, coming off a number of impressive victories and owning a 5-0-1 record in its last six outings.
In general, City have been unstoppable offensively, with 24 goals over that six-game span, but Liverpool have been equally impressive in this regard.
Lead by Luis Suarez and his 19 goals, the Reds have 21 markers in their last six and just one loss, a heartbreaker to Hull City, during that time.
In the last meeting between these two title contenders at Etihad Stadium, City and Liverpool drew 2-2 in February, but given how offensively charged both teams have been as of late, a high-scoring affair, similar to the one we saw between the Gunners and Man City a week ago, may be what's in store.
For Manchester City, one of the team's biggest concerns has to be whether Joe Hart will be able to have an answer to Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge, because although he's been better while playing for England, Hart's misplays this season have been documented.
But, at least for now, the English international is back in Pellegrini's lineup.
This one could really go either way, but given Manchester City's dominance on home turf this season, one has to think they're the pre-match favorite to come out on top.
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