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Liverpool rely on Suarez

- Manchester United look to extend winning run

London: Few players have undergone the transformation from sinner to saint that Luis Suarez is experiencing this season and the prolific Uruguay striker is now dreaming of winning the Premier League with Liverpool.

Liverpool went top of the table by beating Cardiff City 3-1 on Saturday, Suarez scoring twice to take his season’s tally to 19 goals from 12 league matches ahead of the busy Christmas holiday programme which offers no let-up in the title race.

The Anfield club visit fellow contenders Manchester City on Thursday before travelling to Chelsea on Sunday and Suarez, who missed the opening five matches of the season following a ban imposed last season for biting an opponent, is a man reborn. “It is my dream, I hope to win the league and a big trophy with Liverpool,” he said.

Suarez signed a new four-year contract last week and is scoring goals for fun. Liverpool defender Jon Flanagan is a doubt with a hamstring strain sustained during the weekend win over Cardiff. Steven Gerrard, Daniel Sturridge, Jose Enrique and Sebastian Coates are all long-term absentees.

City remain without their injured leading goalscorer Sergio Aguero and defenders Matija Nastasic, Pablo Zabaleta and Micah Richards. Stevan Jovetic missed the win at Fulham because of illness and remains a doubt.

The race for the title reaches the halfway stage with four rounds of matches over Christmas and New Year including the weekend programme which concluded on Monday with Arsenal’s 0-0 draw with Chelsea at the Emirates.

Arsenal, who led the way from mid-September until Liverpool went top on Saturday, remain second behind The Reds on goal difference.

With Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho extending his unbeaten run against counterpart Arsene Wenger to 10 matches, Liverpool head into Christmas as the top side for the first time since 2008.

Unlike Germany where there is an unofficial ‘winter champion’, no such accolade exists in England but historically it is no bad thing to top the table at this time of the year.

The top team at Christmas in the 21 completed Premier League seasons has won the title 10 times. Seven of the last nine champions, and all of the last four title winners, were first on Dec. 25. The last team to be first at Christmas and miss out on the title were Liverpool in 2009.

This time last year eventual champions Manchester United held a four-point lead over Manchester City going into Christmas and were 11 clear of third-placed Chelsea but this season the race is much closer.

Liverpool now have 36 points and the leading eight teams are separated by only eight points, down to champions United with 28.

Despite varying ups and downs in the first half of the season the top eight — Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, Everton, Chelsea, Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United — all have realistic hopes of finishing in the top four.

Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta said last week: “Christmas is so important. Does it matter that this current team has not won the title before? No, it doesn’t. “What is important is that you get as many points as you can over Christmas. That’s what counts.”

Following Monday’s game, Arsenal visit relegation-threatened West Ham United in a London Derby on Dec. 26, the same day as champions United travel to Hull City.

United, who now have four successive victories in all competitions, will look to improve upon what has been an inconsistent campaign to date. The champions sit in eighth and continued their good run of results by defeating West Ham 3-1 at home on Saturday.

Danny Welbeck was on the scoresheet again for David Moyes’ side, however the 23-year-old was forced off early on in the second half and will be a doubt for the Boxing Day clash.

With Robin van Persie also sidelined, there will be an increased reliance on Wayne Rooney, who scored five times in the previous two meetings against Hull, to build upon his 10 goals this season.

Steve Bruce’s side are enjoying a steady return to the Premier League as they sit in 12 place, seven points above the relegation zone, and although they may be without a win in four, they have drawn the last three.