The arrival of 2014 means we're heading toward the business end of this season's race for the Premier League title.
Slip-ups can now prove fatal at either end of the table as clubs look to ramp up a run of form heading into the campaign's crescendo. Week 21 is on the horizon, and as ever, there's plenty of interesting fixtures to look out for, many of which will be defined by individual stars.
|Premier League Week 21 Schedule & Predictions|
|Hull vs. Chelsea||Jan. 11||12:45 GMT/7.45 ET||BT Sport||0-2|
|Cardiff vs. West Ham||Jan. 11||15:00 GMT/10:00 ET||2-1|
|Everton vs. Norwich||Jan. 11||15:00 GMT/10:00 ET||3-0|
|Fulham vs. Sunderland||Jan. 11||15:00 GMT/10:00 ET||1-1|
|Southampton vs. West Brom||Jan. 11||15:00 GMT/10:00 ET||2-1|
|Tottenham vs. Crystal Palace||Jan. 11||15:00 GMT/10:00 ET||3-0|
|Manchester United vs. Swansea||Jan. 11||15:00 GMT/10:00 ET||1-1|
|Newcastle vs. Manchester City||Jan. 12||14:05 GMT/9.05 ET||Sky Sports||1-3|
|Stoke vs. Liverpool||Jan. 12||16:10 GMT/11.10 ET||Sky Sports||0-2|
|Aston Villa vs. Arsenal||Jan. 13||20.00 GMT/15.00 ET||Sky Sports||1-3|
Players Set to Star in Upcoming Matches
Ross Barkley, Everton
Roberto Martinez's first season as Everton boss has seen the Merseyside club make huge strides in little time. The Toffees are enjoying faster, more lethal football than last season and continue to state their claim for a place in next season's Champions League.
Ross Barkley has taken on a huge role in the transformation. The English youngster, who possesses natural physicality and confident dribbling skills, has been at the heart of Everton's effective attacking play.
Slotting behind Romelu Lukaku—who remains on loan from Chelsea until the end of the season—Barkley's performances ensure he will be remembered as one of the breakout stars of the season, analysis that could be galvanised with a dominant display against Norwich.
Chris Hughton's side are well-drilled and have the ability to intimidate in the centre, but Barkley's boundless energy will put a stop to that.
The 20-year-old breaks up play in defensive areas, bursts forward with a quick dash of speed and makes a difference in the opposition's box. Martinez will be wary of dropping points—especially after the recent home loss to Sunderland—but the Goodison Park faithful can be confident Barkley will put in a shift against the Canaries, as he did at Carrow Road.
Aaron Lennon, Tottenham Hotspur
Tim Sherwood's appointment as full-time Spurs boss was perhaps an unglamorous decision, but few individuals within the game understand the club like their former player and coach.
Sherwood has ditched the cautious approach of Andre Villas-Boas, installed two strikers and made the North London outfit increase their tempo when in possession and making runs across the pitch.
Andros Townsend has forced many English onlookers to rub their hands together ahead of this year's World Cup, but in recent weeks, Aaron Lennon's performances deserve equal attention.
The tiny winger may have only scored one goal in 11 Premier League appearances this campaign, per WhoScored.com, but his cut-and-thrust style of play continues to provide Spurs with an effective outlet down the right.
Despite having a poor game in Spurs' FA Cup defeat to Arsenal, as the entire team did, Lennon made a huge difference during the recent victory over Manchester United, as noted by Squawka:
Lennon's one-on-one destruction of Patrice Evra highlighted what he is capable of. The winger will fancy himself against a leggy Crystal Palace defence and is more than equipped to continually skip by Tony Pulis' side with little hassle.
Fernandinho, Manchester City
Manchester City paid big money for Fernandinho, and after an under-the-radar start to his Premier League career, the Brazilian is repaying Manuel Pellegrini with big performances.
Fernandinho's brace in the 6-3 win over Arsenal and important goal during the 3-2 victory against Swansea highlight a player who is firmly settled into all of his duties.
He continues to keep play ticking in midfield, but most importantly, the 28-year-old is able to both shield his defence and get forward when City need greater attacking impetus.
His formidable partnership with Yaya Toure has helped the Etihad team march up the table, and as the schedule continues to thicken, Fernandinho's output will play a major role in deciding whether or not the club's cabinet is crammed with silverware at the end of May.
Athletic, powerful and intelligent, Fernandinho's versatility will be key against a Newcastle midfield that often works doggedly in front of their home crowd.