Manchester United will aim to maintain their momentum on Boxing Day when they travel east to battle Hull City in what's sure to be a pivotal clash for both sides.
David Moyes' defending Premier League champions have won four in a row, including two straight league games to pull within eight points of leaders Liverpool and Arsenal. Meanwhile, Steve Bruce's Tigers have earned a point in each of their last three matches, drawing with West Bromwich Albion, Stoke City and Swansea City, to remain 16 points off the championship pace.
United will be without several key players again in Week 18, including Nani and Marouane Fellaini. The Portuguese winger has been ruled out with a hamstring injury, while the Belgian star is expected to miss significant time while he recovers from wrist surgery.
Keep in mind that the Red Devils are still awaiting the return of Robin van Persie (groin) and Michael Carrick (Achilles), who are both battling injuries of their own and nearing 100 percent physically.
With kickoff right around the corner, let's get you ready with everything you need to know for Matchday 18's opener.
Date: Thursday, December 26, 2013
Start Time: 7:45 a.m. ET, 12:45 p.m. GMT
Where: KC Stadium, Hull, England
Watch: NBC Sports Network (U.S.); BBC One, Sky Sports (U.K.)
Hull City: 20.3 percent
Manchester United: 55.1 percent
Draw: 24.6 percent
*Odds according to Bloomberg Sports.
Red Devils Likely to Be Short-Handed Again at Hull
Moyes appears confident that van Persie and Carrick will return to the United lineup sooner rather than later. According to the Daily Mail's Chris Wheeler, the two stars were expected to be out until 2014 but could possibly suit up in Thursday's clash with Hull City.
But with the Red Devils set to play three league matches in a seven-day span, Moyes is hopeful that van Persie and Carrick can return in time for Boxing Day's big clash, Dec. 28's showdown at Norwich City or United's New Year's Day matchup with Tottenham Hotspur, per Wheeler: "There are always miracles at Christmas. Let's hope there could be one for Robin or Michael Carrick. You never know."
Recently, Dutch national team coach Raymond Verheijen criticized Moyes for his "prehistoric" training methods, per Telegraph Sport on Twitter:
United have been without the high-scoring Dutchman and the veteran midfielder for each of their past three matches but have found ways to win each thanks to timely contributions from players like Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young, who have combined for four goals over United's last two Premier League victories.
If van Persie and Carrick can't go in Hull, it's safe to say that all eyes will be on those two stars on Boxing Day.
Which side will prevail?
Although United are the superior squad, Hull City have been impressive at home this season, holding their previous eight Premier League opponents to just three goals combined. That includes a 3-1 win over Luis Suarez and Liverpool back on Dec. 1.
However, offensively, the Tigers are staring down more questions than answers and are unlikely to match a United side that has scored twice as many Premier League goals through 17 matches (28-14).
Since opening the month with a stunning win over the Reds, Hull City have scored a total of two goals over their last four Premier League matches. Don't expect that form to be enough to overcome a United squad that's rolling coming into the holiday.
Hull City 1, Manchester United 2
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