Tomorrow's contests bring some higher profile matches—Chelsea-Liverpool should be a dandy—but today's English Premier League matches had an impact at both the top and bottom of the table.
Both Manchester clubs moved a step closer toward their title-or-bust aspirations, while (fill in something about relegation-related teams). For reference, here is what the table looked like at the start of action on Saturday:
|Pre-Week 20 Premier League Table|
So which of today's results were most important in the big picture scheme, and how did they change the standings?
Man City 1, Crystal Palace 0
At least for a day, we have a new team at the top of the Premier League. Two days after dethroning Liverpool, Man City did just enough against a bottom-feeding Crystal Palace squad to leap into the top spot.
The Citizens dominated possession and generated numerous scoring chances in the first half but had trouble finishing all game. Edin Dzeko finally gave a restless Etihad Stadium something to cheer about in the 65th minute, when he drilled a shot past Palace keeper Julian Speroni.
A home tie would have been semi-catastrophic, especially considering that City boss Manuel Pellegrini, surprisingly, rested dynamo midfielder Yaya Toure. As ESPNFC's Richard Jolly notes, Man City are not the same high-powered scoring threat without their best facilitator:
Toure's contribution is not merely a matter of goals or a question of his obvious physical power. His quick, one-touch passing helps explain why the regular front four of David Silva, Nasri, Aguero and Negredo have been so deadly this season -- it is Toure who facilitates their devastating combination play.
It was an admirable showing from the Eagles nonetheless, who remain a slot above the relegation line due to Fulham's embarrassing loss. Manager Tony Pulis was proud of his team's defensive effort and is happy with his squad's showing despite the defeat:
Man City have a busy upcoming schedule, with FA Cup and Capital One Cup games interspersed between their normal EPL schedule. To get a win and buy some rest for their starters is a solid result, regardless of how aesthetically pleasing the football.
Man United 1, Norwich 0
City's crosstown rivals had their own issues against a feisty Norwich squad that actually controlled the action for much of the match. However, substitute Danny Welbeck came on and scored the deciding goal in the 57th minute, propelling United up to sixth in the table for the moment.
Man United, playing without Wayne Rooney, were playing with five different starters from their normal lineup. The new lineup struggled to coalesce, and keeper David De Gea was forced to make several timely saves to keep the scoreless draw intact.
The Spaniard, who produced his fifth clean sheet of the season, was praised by United manager David Moyes before the match. Despite inconsistencies as the United keeper, Moyes believes De Gea is an integral part of the team's future, and reaffirmed his secure standing on the roster, per Football 365:
Moyes believes the former Atletico Madrid keeper, who endured a shaky start in Manchester, is among a clutch of United stars who will be around at Old Trafford for a long time to come.
The Red Devils boss said: "He is one of five or six young players in the team who are going to be part of the next five or six years and that means he can only get better.
United will be especially happy to have earned the win without Rooney, who missed the game due to an aggravation of his groin injury. However, Moyes diffused any panic after the match, revealing that he expected Rooney back in the lineup for Man United's next game on New Year's Day against Tottenham:
United continue to move up the table and should find themselves at least in the top four for a Champions League berth, if not better.
Hull 6, Fulham 0
Many expected a 6-0 result from Saturday's action. They just figured it would come from the Etihad.
Indeed, Hull's impressive 6-0 demolition of Fulham was the day's most stunning result, and it's an uplifting victory for the Tigers. After starting the day 12th, Hull now find themselves in the top half of the table, albeit a standing that will likely be short-lived following tomorrow's results.
Nevertheless, it's a day to remember for Hull supporters, as their team had not scored more than three goals in a Premier League match before today. The highlight of the match was undoubtedly Tom Huddlestone's long-awaited haircut. The midfielder, who has managed a monstrous afro in pledging not to cut his hair until ending his scoring drought, buried a shot from 20 yards out for Hull's fourth tally.
Huddlestone was just one of many heroes on the day for the home side. After a scoreless first half, Hull received a trio of goals from Ahmed Elmohamady, Robert Koren and George Boyd in less than 15 minutes. Fulham were utterly helpless and stunned, and Hull boss Steve Bruce was in awe, according to Football365:
Asked for his take on proceedings, Bruce said: "I said to Steve Agnew when Stockdale made the double save which led to the corner, 'It's going to be one of those days where Stockdale is going to come back and be the hero'. How wrong was I?
"It's quite incredible really. The first one and then all of a sudden the floodgates have opened, which doesn't happen very often at this level but we'll take it.
"I can't remember ever having an afternoon like it. When it comes along and it happens, obviously you grasp it."
The victory is a joyous way to end the year for Hull, who are now seven points clear of relegation in their return season to the Premier League. Conversely, things keep getting worse for Fulham, whose minus-22 goal differential is now the worst in the league.
Where Do We Stand?
After six games Saturday, here are the updated EPL standings heading into Sunday's action:
|Premier League Table After Saturday's Matches|
Sunday figures to see another big shakeup at the top, with all four games including at least one team from the top half.