Football: Premier League set for Boxing Day shoot-out

Football: Premier League set for Boxing Day shoot-out

LONDON - The concertina effect at the top of the Premier League table means that no fewer than five teams will have designs on top spot in Thursday's traditional Boxing Day fixtures.

For the first time in the post-1992 Premier League era, just two points separate the top five teams on Christmas Day, and the erosion of Arsenal's seven-point lead has also given hope to seventh-place Tottenham Hotspur and eighth-place Manchester United.

Arsenal's bruising 0-0 draw at home to Chelsea on Monday left Liverpool top at Christmas for the first time since 2008.

However, the new leaders face a stern test on Thursday when they visit a Manchester City side who have won all eight of their home games to date this season, scoring 35 goals.

City, 4-2 victors at Fulham in their last outing, will leapfrog Liverpool if they prevail at the Etihad Stadium and visiting manager Brendan Rodgers says that his side must not get carried away by their early-season form.

"You don't get the rewards at Christmas. It is a nostalgic time and people always want to know where the team is at around Christmas Day," he said.

"We want to be there, but we want to be there at the end of the season and for that there is a lot of hard work ahead."

Rodgers remains without Steven Gerrard, Daniel Sturridge and Jose Enrique due to injury, but in 19-goal top scorer Luis Suarez he can call upon the outstanding player of the season so far.

City's own leading man, Sergio Aguero, is currently sidelined with a calf complaint, and having seen Liverpool rout Tottenham Hotspur 5-0 in their last away game, manager Manuel Pellegrini predicts a "very difficult" encounter.

"Liverpool is a very good team and Suarez is in a very good moment," said the Chilean.

"But I think this Premier League, we are just finishing the first half, in two more games.

"And this Premier League will not just be Liverpool and Manchester City. Five or six teams will fight until the end."

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