Swansea and Man City kick off 2014; leaders Arsenal host Cardiff
There is a full round of matches in the Premier League on New Year's Day as 2014 kicks off with a host of teams in hot pursuit of leaders Arsenal.
The title has been won by the team in first place at the turn of the year in seven of the past 10 seasons, and Arsenal stayed ahead of the pack at the halfway point thanks to a victory at Newcastle United on Sunday.
But this time around the contest is so tight that Liverpool have dropped from being No.1 at Christmas to fifth, and with everyone now preparing for their fourth match of a gruelling festive schedule there could be more twists and turns ahead on Wednesday.
Manchester City are among the contenders and get the action started with a lunchtime clash at Swansea City, live on Sky Sports 1HD, before the Gunners take on managerless Cardiff City and third-placed Chelsea travel to Southampton.
Click below for individual match previews and stats:Swansea v Man City
Arsenal v Cardiff
Crystal Palace v Norwich
Fulham v West Ham
Liverpool v Hull City
Southampton v Chelsea
Stoke v Everton
Sunderland v Aston Villa
West Brom v Newcastle
Man Utd v Tottenham
Everton visit Stoke City and Liverpool host Hull City, while the day's late game pits together two teams looking to clamber back into contention as Manchester United entertain Tottenham Hotspur.
The relegation battle is shaping up to be equally tense as bottom club Sunderland welcome Aston Villa to the Stadium of Light and Fulham take on West Ham United.
Elsewhere, Crystal Palace lock horns with Norwich City in a game between two sides just outside the drop zone, and West Bromwich Albion face a tough test against high-flying Newcastle.
Manchester City are ominously poised just a point off top spot after extending their perfect home record this season to 10 matches with back-to-back wins at the Etihad Stadium after Christmas, although they were made to work hard by both Liverpool and Crystal Palace. If they are to reclaim the title a lot will therefore depend on their away form during the second half of the campaign, and Manuel Pellegrini's men have a chance to climb to the summit, at least for a couple of hours, by beating Swansea at the Liberty Stadium. The Swans are without a win in five games and a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa on Saturday left them in the bottom half of the table.
Arsene Wenger has admitted there is a long way for Arsenal to go if they are to end a nine-year trophy drought come May, but the character they displayed in away victories against West Ham and Newcastle further underlined their credentials. The Gunners are back at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday against Cardiff, who were denied a much-needed victory at the weekend when Sunderland struck two late goals to salvage a draw. The Bluebirds are two points clear of the bottom three and, following the sacking of Malky Mackay, face another difficult month with a daunting set of fixtures ahead.
If Arsenal and Man City both slip up, then Chelsea could move top with a win at Southampton. Jose Mourinho's Blues are just two points adrift of the leaders after defeating Liverpool in a heavyweight showdown on Sunday, but they will be wary of the threat posed by a Southampton side still occupying a top-half spot. Saints took the lead inside the first minute when the teams met at Stamford Bridge just a month ago but ultimately went down 3-1 and have managed just one win in six since, culminating in a 2-1 loss to Everton on Sunday.
Everton's victory kept them just five points off the title pace in fourth place, and was the ideal response to a surprise 1-0 home defeat by Sunderland on Boxing Day. Next up for the Toffees is a trip to the Britannia Stadium to play Stoke, who had been heading in the right direction until suffering heavy losses against Newcastle and Tottenham and are now back down to 12th place.
Liverpool's title hopes have been dented by narrow losses to Manchester City and Chelsea since Christmas, leaving them with a five-point gap to make up on Arsenal. Brendan Rodgers, who had to defend Luis Suarez against accusations of diving after the clash with Chelsea, could be boosted by the return to fitness of Steven Gerrard for the match with Hull City. The Tigers beat Liverpool in the reverse fixture at the start of December and finished 2013 on a high after thumping Fulham 6-0, with Tom Huddlestone scoring a goal which will allow him to take to the field at Anfield with a new haircut.
Manchester United and Tottenham have both had difficult seasons but are still within striking distance of the leading pack ahead of their midweek meeting. The Red Devils are on a four-match winning streak in the league and will be desperate to start 2014 on a positive note, although Spurs are also performing well under new boss Tim Sherwood and will be spurred on by memories of a 3-2 victory at Old Trafford last term.
Scrap for survival
The scrap for Premier League survival is already starting to intensify and there is a vital game at Craven Cottage as Fulham meet West Ham, with both sides currently languishing in the bottom three. Rene Meulensteen admitted he was stunned by the six-goal drubbing at Hull and has told his Fulham players not to let their heads drop ahead of the visit of West Ham, who played out a thrilling 3-3 draw with West Brom on Saturday but are now without a victory in six games.
Sunderland are currently at the foot of the table but are closing in on their fellow strugglers after a four-match unbeaten run, and if they can build on their dramatic late comeback in the draw with Cardiff by beating Aston Villa, the Black Cats may find themselves out of the relegation places at last. Paul Lambert's Villa are just four points clear of the bottom three, but did at least manage to halt a four-game losing sequence by holding Swansea 1-1.
Crystal Palace have defied the odds to rise out of the drop zone and there were plenty of reasons for encouragement even in a 1-0 defeat at Manchester City, but Tony Pulis will know the job is only half done ahead of another important fixture against Norwich. The Canaries only have a three-point cushion at present, having lost successive home games to Fulham and Manchester United after Christmas.
West Brom are a point below Norwich after seeing their wait for a league win stretch to nine games as they drew with West Ham. The fallout from Nicolas Anelka's controversial goal celebration has overshadowed preparations for a crucial home game against Newcastle, who slipped to eighth at the weekend after losing to Arsenal but remain in the hunt for European qualification.