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Fiji Time: 8:37 PM on Thursday 24 April

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6-way race for top

Sunday, December 29, 2013

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 now languish 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 (Monday Fiji time) seeing third-place Chelsea hosting fourth-place Liverpool.

Less than 43 hours after completing victory over Liverpool, Manchester City will be back in action against Crystal Palace on Saturday (today Fiji time) afternoon.

Although every team played on Boxing Day, City's game against Liverpool was the last and Liverpool have an extra day's rest, not having to play 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," City manager Manuel Pellegrini said. "I think that to play two games in less than 72 hours is not a good thing. Playing again, after 40 hours, I think, is a very bad thing."

Particularly when City have 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.

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-placed 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."