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5 talking points ahead of the midweek Premier League fixtures

5 talking points ahead of the midweek Premier League fixtures
© Reuters
Liverpool start 2019 seven points clear of Manchester City who they face at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.

Another round of fascinating Premier League fixtures awaits at the start of 2019.

Here, Press Association Sport picks out five of the main talking points.

Can City dent Liverpool's charge?

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola will look to get the better of Liverpool counterpart Jurgen Klopp
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola will look to get the better of Liverpool counterpart Jurgen Klopp (Martin Rickett/PA)

Where else to start than Thursday, when the Etihad Stadium will play host to the biggest game of the campaign: the potentially season-defining clash between leaders Liverpool and reigning champions Manchester City. Jurgen Klopp's Reds make the trip east along the M62 in fine form, having accrued 54 points from their opening 20 fixtures – a record only bettered by Chelsea in 2005-06 and City last term.

Pep Guardiola's men brought a timely end to their two-match losing run by beating Southampton on Sunday and now need to make a dent on the seven-point gap to Liverpool. Klopp has got the better of City in recent big encounters and Guardiola will need to think outside the box to stop them this time.

Ole Gunnar win a forth?

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has enjoyed a great return to Old Trafford
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has enjoyed a great return to Old Trafford (Martin Rickett/PA)

Manchester United were lifeless in defeat to bitter rivals Liverpool on December 17 – a 3-1 loss that proved the final straw for the powers that be, with Jose Mourinho swiftly shown the exit door after two-and-a-half years.

Fan favourite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been parachuted into the hotseat and could scarcely have wished for a better start to life as caretaker manager, having joined Sir Matt Busby and Mourinho as the only managers in United's history to have begun their reign with three straight league wins.

They have also entertained, netting 12 goals in the process, and head to St James' Park looking to continue their 100 per cent record against a Newcastle side that have stuttered recently.

Can Cardiff add to Spurs woes?

Many people wrote off promoted Cardiff as relegation certainties before a ball had been kicked, yet they enter 2019 three points clear of the dropzone in 16th place. Neil Warnock has the side as well organised as you would expect, with Tuesday's match offering the chance for them to record three straight top-flight clean sheets for the first time since 1957.

That sturdy defence saw them return to Wales with four points from the trips to Crystal Palace and Leicester, where the Bluebirds secured a 1-0 win at the same time as Tottenham's five-match winning run came to a crushing halt. Just as momentum was building along with talk of a title tilt, Wolves landed a 3-1 gut punch at Wembley that leaves Mauricio Pochettino's men with a mental hurdle to overcome as well as the physical questions brought at this time of year.

Will Burnley compound Terriers' troubles

Burnley secured a timely win against West Ham
Burnley secured a timely win against West Ham (Richard Sellers/PA)

After a memorable 2017-18 campaign, it is far to say things have gone awry for Burnley so far this term. Pressure has been mounting on Sean Dyche for the first time in his reign after a run of six defeats in seven matches – poor form that the Clarets managed to halt on Sunday. Dwight McNeil, one of five changes, completed a 2-0 win against West Ham that still leaves them in the relegation places, but only on goal difference.

Wednesday offers 18th-place Burnley the chance to improve their position when rock-bottom Huddersfield come to town. David Wagner's men are five points from safety after losing all seven games in December. After going down late at Fulham in their last match of 2018, they can ill afford to start the New Year with another loss.

Can Cherries sting Hornets?

Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe is looking to end his side's slump
Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe is looking to end his side's slump (Mark Kerton/PA)

Bournemouth started off the season as many neutrals' favourites, thanks to their attack-minded style and ability to play above themselves. Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser and Co were flying high in the top six at the start of December but have quietly gone about dropping to 12th in the standings after a poor run.

Eddie Howe's men have lost eight of their last 10 matches in the league, as well as going out of the Carabao Cup, and saw their 5-0 Boxing Day defeat at Tottenham compounded by a 4-1 loss at Manchester United. The fixture list has been cruel, but getting 2019 off to winning start against Watford can kickstart a season that could yet end memorably.

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Paul Pogba celebrates scoring for Manchester United against Bournemouth on December 30, 2018.
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Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Manchester CityMan City27212474205465
2Liverpool26205159154465
3Tottenham HotspurSpurs26200654252960
4Manchester UnitedMan Utd26156552351751
5Arsenal26155653371650
6Chelsea26155645291650
7Wolverhampton WanderersWolves2611693433139
8Watford2610793434037
9Everton2796123639-333
10West Ham UnitedWest Ham2696113239-733
11Bournemouth26103133747-1033
12Leicester CityLeicester2695123134-332
13Crystal Palace2676132734-727
14Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton2676132839-1127
15Burnley2676132947-1827
16Newcastle UnitedNewcastle2667132234-1225
17Cardiff CityCardiff2674152447-2325
18Southampton2659122844-1624
19Fulham2645172558-3317
20Huddersfield TownHuddersfield2625191448-3411

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