Week 30 of the 2013-14 Premier League season is nearly upon us, and as we draw closer to the finish line the battle for the league title and the fight against relegation are really starting to heat up.
No team can afford to drop points at this stage of the competition, so week 30 promises to bring us yet another weekend full of great EPL action.
Read on for a full breakdown of the top player matchups in this week's EPL ties.
Hull City vs. Manchester City
As reported by John Edwards of the Daily Mail, City will once again be without star striker Sergio Aguero, who suffered another injury to the hamstring that has bothered him since January.
The Citizens have made up for defensive mishaps with an offensive output that is capable of overpowering almost any defense, but without Aguero the burden will fall to Alvaro Negredo.
Negredo has been in fine form this season but will have his work cut out for him against Hull's Curtis Davies. The centre-back has been the Tigers' rock on the defensive line, and his physical style of play could spell trouble for the Spanish striker.
City are in the thick of the EPL title race and can ill afford to lose any points as they try to keep up with Chelsea, but scoring might not come easy against Davies and the Hull City Tigers.
Everton vs. Cardiff
Everton are currently sitting in seventh place with little hope of catching any of the teams in the top four and securing Champions League football, while Cardiff are desperately fighting the battle against relegation.
The Welsh outfit has struggled in its first season of EPL football but a young back line led by Steven Caulker and Ben Turner has at least shown signs of hope for the future.
That defense will have to be at their best when they face one of the league's best young strikers, Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian forward has scored in his last two games for Everton and will be looking to continue his run against a young defense that has conceded more goals than 18 other EPL teams, per WhoScored.com.
Fulham vs. Newcastle
Loic Remy is Newcastle's offensive engine, with 13 goals in 23 total EPL appearances this season. A date with the worst defensive unit in the EPL (65 goals conceded) must sound like music to the Frenchman's ears.
Scott Parker might not be healthy enough to play, as tweeted by Sky Sports' Lyall Thomas, and Fulham's defense has been absolutely woeful this season:
Steve Sidwell will be tasked with keeping Remy as far away from the box as possible, bumping and running him off the ball before he can engage Fulham's defenders. Sidwell might be the team's only hope for avoiding yet another loss.
Southampton vs. Norwich
Any discussion about Southampton starts with Adam Lallana, and for good reason. The midfielder is enjoying an excellent season and is making a strong push for a position on Roy Hodgson's World Cup squad.
Norwich currently sit four points above the relegation zone and are looking to take some points from this tie in an attempt to secure EPL football for next season, but containing Lallana will not be easy.
Joseph Yobo and Sebastien Bassong are expected to start in the centre of the defense and face a difficult afternoon against one of England's rising stars.
Stoke vs. West Ham
Marko Arnautovic never fully delivered on the promise he once held, but the Austrian winger still has the ability to turn a tie on its head with a moment of utter genius.
Coming from the left, his direct opponents will be centre-back James Tomkins and right-back Guy Demel. Tomkins has been one of West Ham's most consistent performers this season and will have to play in support of his fickle partner on the right, who should have his hands full with the equally fickle Arnautovic.
Sunderland vs. Crystal Palace
Mile Jedinak is currently averaging a stunning 3.4 tackles and 3.5 interceptions per game per WhoScored, making him a vital part of Palace's midfield and a very good buffer for the team's defense.
Sunderland have had difficulty scoring this season (26 goals in EPL play). In the absence of consistent play at the striker position, the burden has fallen on the shoulders of midfielder Adam Johnson.
Playing out on the wing, Johnson provides Sunderland with a creative spark and represents the team's main attacking output. It will be up to Jedinak to contain him as best as he can.
Swansea vs. West Bromwich
Nicolas Anelka announced via Twitter that he is leaving West Brom, per BBC Sport, and all eyes will now be on Victor Anichebe to provide them with the goals needed to survive a fierce relegation battle. With three goals and three assists to his name, Anichebe's output so far has been solid, but the team will need more than solid to maintain its place among England's finest.
Anichebe will be out to prove himself against a Swansea team that concedes a lot of easy goals (41 so far this season), and with the club's top defender Chico sitting this one out with a suspension, it will be up to Ashley Williams to stop Anichebe in his attempt to prove he should have started over Anelka all along.
Aston Villa vs. Chelsea
Ryan Bertrand is ineligible to face his parent club and will be replaced by Joe Bennett or Antonio Luna at the left-back position.
The order of the day? Stopping arguably the most in-form player in the entire EPL, Eden Hazard. Ouch.
On paper, this particular matchup is a nightmare scenario for Villa, but both Bennett and Luna will be motivated to show they deserve a spot on this team and will play their hearts out against the Belgian superstar if chosen.
Then again, this fan might have a slightly more realistic outlook:
Villa fans must hope Bennett plays the game of his life and finds a way to contain a player who looks about as uncontainable as it gets.
Manchester United vs. Liverpool
The last time Liverpool were held scoreless in EPL action was in their bout with Arsenal in early November. That puts a lot of pressure on United's defense but even more on their strikers. Liverpool will most likely score, ergo Manchester will have to score more.
In an interview with the club's official match programme, Robin van Persie recently stated he'd like to stay with United for the time being and that he'd be open to signing a new deal (via Chris Wheeler of the Daily Mail). Scoring against rivals Liverpool would be a good way to start convincing team officials such a new deal would be a good idea.
For Liverpool, Martin Skrtel has been one of the EPL's top performers at the centre-back position and will be tasked with making sure van Persie doesn't get anywhere near Simon Mignolet's goal. This battle between EPL veterans will go a long way in deciding the outcome of this tie.
Tottenham vs. Arsenal
As reported by Sky Sports' Pete O'Rourke via Twitter, Arsenal will be without Mesut Ozil for their North London derby with Tottenham Hotspur:
The timing of this injury couldn't possibly be worse, as Arsenal are in the middle of a brutal part of their schedule and on the verge of losing out on the EPL title.
Without Ozil to pull the strings, the Gunners will turn to Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla to provide the team with creativity in midfield. They will be tested against a defensive unit that is lead by Jan Vertonghen.
Vertonghen has been unable to build on the phenomenal campaign he put together last season but is still one of the top defenders in the EPL, and his energetic style of play matches well with the high intensity a derby of this magnitude brings.
The Belgian isn't exactly popular among rival fanbases. At least this Gunner fan kept things civil:
By taking out Cazorla and Rosicky and thus rendering Arsenal's potent attack virtually impotent, Vertonghen would instantly restore his status as a club symbol and win back some of the fans who have lost confidence in his ability to lead this club.