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Premier League, Week 15 preview: Big tests for Manchester City, Arsenal

Week 15 of the Premier League season doesn't feature any marquee matches, but it does have a whole lot of very watchable ones.

Michael Regan

Manchester United vs. Newcastle United

Old Trafford; Saturday, 12:45 GMT/7:45 AM ET

Manchester United currently sit in 9th place in the Premier League, which is a very un-United place to be. Newcastle currently reside a point ahead of United, which is an equally strange arrangement. At this point in the season, table position is largely irrelevant; there's 24 games left, the margins are still razor-thin, and no one expects United to finish anywhere outside the top six (at worst). Still, United being where they are to this point in the season is a bit shocking, but talking about David Moyes and the Ghost of Sir Alex and blah blah blah is just boring. Let's talk about Newcastle instead.

Two seasons ago, Newcastle found themselves on the verge of qualifying for the Champions League just one year removed from playing in the Championship, and Alan Pardew was hailed as a genius. Last season, Newcastle found themselves on the verge of being relegated, and Alan Pardew was dismissed as an incompetent -- and potentially hypocritical -- buffoon that needed an enormous buying-spree in order to save the club from the drop. After a slow start to the season, the ranks of those predicting his imminent ouster grew in number.

And then, Newcastle ran off four straight victories-with back-to-back wins over Chelsea and Spurs coming in that spell-and no one was really sure what to think anymore. A 3-0 loss to Swansea City mid-week didn't do much to clear up any confusion. In short, both Newcastle and their manager are nearly impossible to figure out. Would it really surprise anyone if they made another push for Champions League qualification? Probably not. Would it really surprise anyone if Pardew is sacked before the end of the season? Probably not. You're a lot of things, Newcastle United, but boring sure isn't one of them.

Crystal Palace vs. Cardiff City

Selhurst Park; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

There tends to be a great deal of scoffing at meetings between lower-table sides, and sometimes it's justified; Sunderland-Stoke, for example, would not exactly be appointment television for a whole lot of people. But in general, the bias against contests between the stragglers is misplaced; there aren't many games on the fixture list where bottom-five teams will feel as though three points are there for the taking, and with every point vital at the lower end of the table, games like these often feature some of the most end-to-end attacking football you're likely to see. Is the technical quality as high as you're likely to see in a Champions League semifinal? No. But there are a heck of a lot of 0-0s at that level.

Liverpool vs. West Ham United

Anfield; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

And here we will see what happens to a club that's become so focused on scraping by, they forget what it's like to actually try to win any game ever, especially against a top-four side.

These are games Liverpool can't afford to drop points from if they're hoping to return to the Champions League, and with things as wide open as they are right now that's a completely realistic goal. Eventually, Manchester United and (probably) Spurs are going to find some more consistency, and the pressure on the Reds will increase. A failure to take full points against clubs like West Ham could come back to haunt them.

Southampton vs. Manchester City

St. Mary's Stadium; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

After a stunning start to the season that led to even the Daily Mail being (kind of) analytical, Southampton has now lost three straight and fallen back to the mid-table pack. City managed their second away win of the season over West Brom on Wednesday, which makes the narrative their vulnerability away from the Etihad seem at least a little bit more suspect; something clearly must give in this battle of competing narratives.

Stoke City vs. Chelsea

Britannia Stadium; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Stoke City is pretty terrible to watch, while Chelsea is a significantly more refined kind of terrible to watch; it's like Brett Ratner's X-Men against Gone With The Wind; they're both equally horrible but some people will pretend like one of them is actually enjoyable to watch, which is how you know not to hang out with them anymore.

West Bromwich Albion vs. Norwich City

The Hawthorns; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Speaking of equally horrible.

Sunderland vs. Tottenham Hotspur

Stadium of Light; Saturday, 17:30 GMT/12:30 PM ET

Sunderland looked ... kind of decent against Chelsea, which is weird. And they looked kind of a decent in an "on the verge of a breakthrough" kind of way. And since they're playing Spurs, well, you know how the rest of this is going to go.

Fulham vs. Aston Villa

Craven Cottage; Sunday, 13:30 GMT/8:30 AM ET

There are young Fulham fans that will go to this game, and it will be their first time ever seeing their club up close. There are Villa fans that are going to this game, and it will be their first away trip. There are probably hundreds of people that fall into one of these two categories. That's so depressing it requires its own BuzzFeed listicle of Disney Princesses crying.

Arsenal vs. Everton

Emirates Stadium; Sunday, 16:00 GMT/11:00 AM ET

I tried really hard to write something cynical about this game -- it's in my DNA -- and I just couldn't manage. This is a cool game. Arsenal leading the Premier League is cool. Everton actually playing to their potential under one of the most genuinely likeable people in football is cool. That they're playing a game on the TV is cool.

It's all cool! This should be fun.

Swansea City vs. Hull City

Liberty Stadium; Monday, 20:00 GMT/3:00 PM ET

This game is decidedly not cool. This game is a veritable Dawn Weiner.

(That's right, it's another semi--obscure movie reference. Because I am a veritable Dawn Weiner.)