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5 things to know about the English Premier League ahead of this weekend's matches
MANCHESTER, England - Only six points separate the top six teams in the Premier League.
Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton and Newcastle lead the way this season. Last season, the gap was already 13 points after 18 games before Manchester United cruised to the title by 11 points.
It's a sign of how unpredictable this season is turning out that United is down in seventh, yet only eight points from the top.
By the end of this weekend, every team will have played each other once, with the headline match on Sunday seeing third-place Chelsea hosting fourth-place Liverpool.
Here are five things to know about this weekend's matches:
It seems more like cricket or baseball. Less than 43 hours after completing its victory over Liverpool, Manchester City is back in action against Crystal Palace on Saturday afternoon.
No wonder manager Manuel Pellegrini is frustrated.
Although every team played on Boxing Day, City's game against Liverpool was the late game. And Liverpool has an extra day's rest, with its game at Chelsea not until Sunday.
"All the other countries stop and I think it is very important for the players to have a break because they play too much, too many games," Pellegrini said.
"It is incredible that the games are so near another. I think that to play two games in less than 72 hours is not a good thing. The players are not recovered in less than 72 hours normally. Playing again, after 40 hours, I think, is a very bad thing."
Particularly when City has to face a Palace side now out of the relegation zone after beating Aston Villa.
Chelsea might be third in the standings, but the failure of the team's misfiring strikers to kill off games could prove costly in the title run-in. The Blues laboured to a 1-0 victory over Swansea, leaving manager Jose Mourinho exhausted.
"They kill me — every game I'm tired in the end," Mourinho said of his players. "We don't score the second goal and you feel like the opponent now believes and the opponent is keen to risk a bit more and put in a second striker. In this moment you are a bit in trouble."
Particularly on Sunday against a team which has little trouble scoring. Although Luis Suarez failed to score in Thursday's loss at City, the Liverpool striker has 10 goals in December.
In contrast, former Liverpool forward Fernando Torres has scored only twice in the league for Chelsea this season.
A thigh injury will rule Aaron Ramsey out of Arsenal's match at Newcastle on Sunday.
But, unlike most players, Jack Wilshere will be back and fresh after missing Monday's draw against Chelsea and Thursday's victory at West Ham through suspension.
And Lukas Podolski is back from injury at a key time for the leaders, scoring and setting up a goal after returning from four months out on Thursday.
"I try to get him slowly back to competitiveness," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. "He has shown he can have a huge impact because he can score and make goal."
With the focus on the movement in the top four, it can be easy to miss Manchester United coming through in the slipstream. A third successive league victory — at Hull on Thursday — pushed the champions up to seventh, only five points behind fourth-place Liverpool.
Next up on Saturday is a Norwich side that was stunned at home by struggling Fulham on Thursday.
"We've had our setbacks this season," United defender Chris Smalling said. "We need to make sure that we don't have any more and that we keep winning."
The rift between Cardiff owner Vincent Tan and Malky Mackay came to a head on Friday, with the manager being fired. Tan complained about "dirty linen" being exposed in public, but Mackay said he left after two years with his "head held high."
Now Tan must find a new manager willing to work for him after a standoff with Mackay played out in public for several months.
Cardiff will begin life without Mackay by hosting the league's bottom team, Sunderland. However, the visitors may not be an easy opponent for the temporary coaching team — Sunderland travels to south Wales on the back of a surprise win at fifth-place Everton.
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