This weekend's matches will reveal more about the English Premier League title race than any other point this season.
That's because Manchester City, the two-time defending champions, and Liverpool FC, the league leaders, will finally clash Sunday at Anfield. The two were separated by just a point in last season's historic title race, and six points separate the odds-on favorites so far this season.
Liverpool has not lost in the league, but appear vulnerable heading into Sunday. The Reds have trailed at halftime in each of their last three matches, still picking up points in all three (2-1-0). That won't fly against City, who have scored a Premier League-leading 34 goals in 10 matches this season. No side has won three straight Premier League titles in over a decade, and you'd have to like City's chances -- despite still facing a three-point gap -- if they win at Anfield.
Sunday's match will provide the truest sense of where Liverpool and City really stand, but Matchweek 12 just might reveal more about the other clubs who fancy themselves title contenders.
Depending upon the results of Sunday's massive match atop the table and their own games, third-place Leicester City and fourth-place Chelsea could leapfrog Man City in second or trail first by as few as five points. With 26 games remaining after the weekend, the door wouldn't be ajar as much as it would be wide-open for a pair of party-crashers.
That's fairly remarkable, considering the state of Leicester and Chelsea headed into the season and the consensus surrounding City and Liverpool's status as the best teams in England, if not Europe. The Foxes have finished 12th-, ninth- and ninth-place in three seasons since their Cinderella title win, while the Blues lost superstar Eden Hazard to Real Madrid and were not allowed to sign any players this summer as part of a two-window transfer ban. Yet, thanks to a pair of promising young cores, Leicester and Chelsea have legitimate hopes of making this a three- or four-horse race atop the league.
On the flipside, slip-ups by either Leicester and Chelsea will open the door for the down-table rivals hoping to qualify for Europe.
Leicester hosts fifth-place Arsenal, who are winless in each of their last three matches and have fallen to fifth place. The Gunners' 4-3-1 start masked some poor performances -- Arsenal ranks just 10th in expected-goals differential, per StatsBomb's metrics -- and they really could use a result Saturday to remain in Champions League contention, let alone cool down the seat under embattled manager Unai Emery.
Chelsea welcomes another struggling London club -- ninth-place Crystal Palace -- to Stamford Bridge. Palace, like Arsenal, are winless in their last three matches, falling out of a Europa League place during that time. Still, Saturday's match is a London Derby, and the Eagles are 1-1-1 in them this season. The Blues are hotter than any other team in the league, but dropping points to Palace would indicate Chelsea's youth revolution is not quite ready for prime time.
It isn't the biggest measuring-stick match in London this weekend, however. That crown belongs to sixth-place Sheffield United's trip to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday, and the match arguably is a bigger litmus test for struggling Spurs. The newly-promoted Blades are well on their way to staying up, and the Premier League's stingiest defense has them dreaming bigger. Tottenham, meanwhile, are a disaster, and that might be charitable. Spurs already are 10 points back of fourth, and they need to start winning if they are to qualify for European competition.
Only a single goal separates 10th-place Manchester United and Tottenham in the table, and the Red Devils also have a must-win home match on the docket. United already has beaten Leicester, Chelsea and drawn Liverpool this season, but losses to Cyrstal Palace, West Ham and Newcastle United have left no room for error. Unlike Tottenham, underlying metrics (plus-6.8 in expected goals, fourth-best in the league) indicate that Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer's side is due for a turnaround, but any regression might not be enough if they lose this weekend.
Liverpool and Manchester City's top-of-the-table clash should be revelatory about the state of the title race and thus grab most of the weekend's headlines in the process. Yet Leicester City and Chelsea can continue to make their case for inclusion in that conversation, or leave room for their rivals to sneak into the top four.
Thus, the 12th week of the season can truly separate the Premier League's best from the rest.