By Ray Hamill
A busy December in the EPL continues this weekend with some crucial matchups, including a top-of-the-table clash that could go a long way toward deciding the title.
And if you’re into derby games, then Christmas is coming early for you, with three of them involving the frontrunners over the next 48 hours.
The action gets under way with an all-London affair at 7:30 EDT Saturday morning when West Ham hosts Chelsea, the latter of whom currently sits third in the standings and will be hoping to make up some room on the top two.
Four of the top five teams will be in action on Sunday, including the game of the season thus far, the all-Manchester derby.
This is usually a highly anticipated showdown for many reasons, but particularly so this year.
Manchester City are unbeaten in league play and sit eight points clear of their cross-city rivals with a far superior goal difference.
A win for the Blues of Manchester could effectively end the title chase before the halfway point.
Manchester United, however, are a much improved team from last season and will be hoping to hand their bitter rivals their first loss on Sunday in a game that could define their title credentials.
Kickoff is set for 11:15 A.M.
And if you think that’s an intense matchup, the earlier game on Sunday sees Everton make the lengthy quarter-mile trip to play Liverpool in a rivalry that is literally the most intense in EPL history.
The stats don’t lie, and this particular matchup averages more red cards than any other in the EPL.
Everton have struggled to flatter this season and have hovered around the relegation zone for much of the campaign.
The Toffees, however, have begun to turn their fortunes around under new manager Sam Allardyce, and have posted three straight shutouts, including two in the EPL.
But they will have their hands full against a Liverpool team they have not beaten in 14 consecutive matchups dating back to 2010, and a Reds squad that is offensively as loaded as any in Europe right now and coming off a 7-0 pummeling of Spartak Moscow in the Champions League.
Game time is set for 9:15 A.M.
In other action on Sunday, at 7 A.M. Arsenal will try to rebound from last week’s loss to United when they travel to play a Southampton side that has discovered some offense in recent weeks.
On Saturday, meanwhile, Tottenham will try to put a disappointing spell behind them and make up some room on the rest of the top six when they host Stoke at 7 A.M.
Get ready for an early start EPL fans, it’s going to be a fun weekend.