Five different clubs are capable of being in first place in the English Premier League table by the end of Matchday 18. This parity turns almost every match into a must-watch event.
The biggest contest of the week features a battle between Manchester City and Liverpool, but there are a number of other matchups that will play a big role in the standings. Every top team needs to make sure they come away with three points to keep pace in the league.
Of course, every squad also has to make sure they conserve their energy for another match in just two or three days. This balance will be important heading into the final set of matches in 2013.
Here are predictions for each matchup in Week 18 with a look at the biggest battles of the day.
|EPL Matchday 18 Fixtures - Thursday, Dec. 16|
|Time (ET)||Time (GMT)||Home||Predicted Score||Away|
|7:45 a.m.||12:45 p.m.||Hull City||0-1||Manchester United|
|10 a.m.||3 pm.||Aston Villa||1-1||Crystal Palace|
|10 a.m.||3 pm.||Cardiff City||0-1||Southampton|
|10 a.m.||3 pm.||Chelsea||3-1||Swansea City|
|10 a.m.||3 pm.||Everton||2-0||Sunderland|
|10 a.m.||3 pm.||Newcastle United||2-1||Stoke City|
|10 a.m.||3 pm.||Norwich City||0-0||Fulham|
|10 a.m.||3 pm.||Tottenham||1-0||West Bromwich Albion|
|10 a.m.||3 pm.||West Ham United||0-2||Arsenal|
|12:30 p.m.||5:30 p.m.||Manchester City||3-2||Liverpool|
West Ham United vs. Arsenal
Arsenal had a chance to pull away on top of the EPL, but the club has struggled against top opponents in recent weeks. After a draw against Everton, Arsenal lost to Napoli and Manchester City before finishing with another draw against Chelsea.
According to Jeremy Wilson of The Telegraph, manager Arsene Wenger acknowledged the struggles, but put them into perspective:
We're going through a patch where it's a bit more difficult, but part of a successful team is how you deal with that. The spirit of the team is unbelievably focused. The spirit and desire are there. Its' a bit difficult, but we'll come through it.
Let's be serious: if I'd told you we'd be top of the league at Christmas when we lost to Aston Villa, you'd have told me I was absolutely mad. We are where we are. The last few games have been difficult, but we have played Everton, City and Chelsea.
Although the Gunners have to go back on the road against West Ham United, this is by far the weakest opponent they will face in close to a month.
This game should be an opportunity for the offence to get back on track and come away with an important win to end the recent slide.
Newcastle United vs. Stoke City
This is one of only two matches of the day with both clubs in the top half of the league table.
Newcastle have been one of the more inconsistent sides in the EPL this season. They have wins over Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea this year, but they have also lost to Hull City, Swansea City and Sunderland.
However, they still have found a way to come through with enough key wins to sit in sixth place in the league table.
Meanwhile, Stoke City have performed well at home but not as much on the road. In eight matches, they only have one win and two draws to go with a minus-eight goal differential.
Newcastle have shown the ability to light up the scoresheet, and they should be able to score enough to secure a quality win to remain competitive in the league.
Manchester City vs. Liverpool
Thanks to goal differential, Liverpool currently sit on top of the league table. Heading into the year, this would have been a major surprise, but not after seeing what Luis Suarez has accomplished in recent weeks.
In his last four EPL starts, the forward has scored an incredible 10 goals. Only Sergio Aguero has scored more than that all season.
With Aguero out, the Reds have a chance to do what no one in the league has done this year.
That is, beat Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.
With that being said, WhoScored points out that City do still have a dominant offence at home:
The squad is more than just Aguero, and fans should expect to see plenty of goals in the coming weeks from Yaya Toure, Alvaro Negredo and others. City will stay assertive offensively and they should earn another big win.
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