We are now into December and this is where the Premier League really starts to separate the men from the boys.
The congested schedule of the winter period is set to stretch playing squads to the limit and significantly test the mental resolve of certain clubs.
Gameweek 15 offers an early festive treat for fans with 10 matches taking place across this week, with Wednesday’s batch presenting a particularly mouthwatering evening of football.
But, before we can get to that blockbuster matchday, we must first get through Tuesday’s double-header, with Crystal Palace first taking on Bournemouth in a mid-table clash before Manchester City travel to Turf Moor to lock horns with Sean Dyche’s well-drilled Burnley.
Pep Guardiola can reduce the chasm between his side and Liverpool to eight points with a win, but Jurgen Klopp will have the chance to restore their lead on Wednesday – should Man City conquer in Lancashire that is – when they contest the first Merseyside derby of the season against Everton at Anfield.
But, that is possibly not even the biggest game on Wednesday as Jose Mourinho returns to Old Trafford just a year after his dismissal with his rejuvenated Tottenham Hotspur team looking to pile further pressure on Man Utd and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Elsewhere, Leicester City play host to managerless Watford, Southampton clash with relegation rivals Norwich City and West Ham travel to Wolves.
As for Thursday, Sheffield United welcome Newcastle to Bramall Lane, while Freddie Ljungberg will take his position in the Emirates dugout for the first time as Arsenal play Brighton.
In preparation for this interesting few days of Premier League action, two members of the Squawka team have taken a look at each game to analyse how they may play out and provide some predictions.
Ben Green: Crystal Palace got back to winning ways against Burnley on the weekend having gone five games without a win, albeit against four of the traditional ‘Big Six’ and Leicester City, and are usually a hard nut to crack on home turf. Bournemouth on the other hand have endured three successive defeats but tend to find the back of the net. Against a low-scoring Eagles both sides should share the spoils in south London. Crystal Palace 1-1 Bournemouth.
James Richards: Palace bagged an important win against Burnley at the weekend following a nightmare run of fixtures that saw them play Man City, Liverpool, Leicester, Chelsea and Arsenal. Roy Hodgson’s men were impressive at Turf Moor keeping only their second clean-sheet in the last eight top-flight matches.
They take on a Bournemouth side who themselves have hit a rough patch of form, losing each of the last three games and conceding at least twice in all of those defeats. Palace will be hoping to build on the win at the weekend and it could be the start of another good run for ththe hosts. Crystal Palace 3-2 Bournemouth.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Harry Wilson has netted three goals in his previous three games and is really coming into his own under Eddie Howe’s watchful eye. Crystal Palace have their own explosive winger in Wilfried Zaha but will have to be wary of the threat Wilson poses, both on the ball and from deadball scenarios.
BG: Guardiola needs a win, it’s as simple as that now. The current landscape is such, that many already believe Liverpool have done enough to win a first-ever Premier league title, but the reigning champions will be keen to reduce the chasm and ramp up the pressure. Man City have consistently struggled at Turf Moor in recent seasons, but perfectionist Guardiola will be working day and night to find a winning formula. Burnley 0-3 Man City.
JR: Man City dropped points again at the weekend and now know they cannot afford to repeat it. Their title hopes already look a distant dream with Liverpool a whopping 11 points ahead of Pep‘s side but most Reds supporters are not willing to get carried away. Burnley were disappointing against Palace on Saturday and Dyche will want to see a response but a wounded Man City are a dangerous animal and the Clarets will need to be careful. Burnley 0-3 Man City.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Kevin De Bruyne is just a joy to watch at the minute and will be key if Man City are to get anything out of this contest.
BG: Frank Lampard shuffled the pack against West Ham on Saturday in a tactical twist which ultimately backfired, but will be hoping to strengthen their top-four aspirations when they take on Villa. Dean Smith’s side battled valiantly at Old Trafford on Sunday, but looked susceptible at the back; against a side of Chelsea’s attacking quality, that could prove their downfall. Chelsea 2-1 Aston Villa.
JR: Lampard has lost back-to-back games for the first time since taking over at Stamford Bridge and will be desperate to avoid a third loss on the bounce. The last couple of results have forced the Blues to take stock of their current situation after they looked so strong prior to the Man City defeat. With Tammy Abraham coming back into contention they should be able to see off a Villa side who deserved more than the point they got at Old Trafford. Chelsea 2-0 Aston Villa.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Jack Grealish was the standout player at Old Trafford on Sunday. Not only did the Villa captain net a sensational goal, but he completely bossed the midfield area.
BG: The Foxes are simply unplayable at the minute, forcing Everton to deploy a five-at-the-back system before a dramatic late winner on Saturday. Brendan Rodgers has found the perfect balance between attack and defence, and should have few problems easing past a managerless and deflated Watford side. Leicester City 3-0 Watford.
JR: Watford are looking for a new manager, a statement as common as “British Rail never runs on time”. It is just one of modern life’s certainties, even more so than taxes it would now appear. The Hornets travel to Leicester in hope rather than expectation following the dismissal of Quique Sanchez Flores. The Foxes are playing some brilliant football under Rodgers and have won their last six consecutive Premier League matches…soon to be seven. Leicester City 3-0 Watford.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Kelechi Iheanacho hasn’t had much luck since moving to the King Power Stadium, but at the weekend he came alive, scoring a last-gasp winner and setting up Jamie Vardy. Under Rodgers’ paternalistic tutelage, he could begin to thrive.
BG: Mourinho relishes a fixture of this magnitude, but tends to adopt a ‘do not lose’ mentality when it comes to big games, which ultimately sucks the intensity out said encounters. But the Portuguese says he’s turned a corner, and has begun his Spurs tenure in explosive fashion. He may feel a statement result is required to really ruffle a few feathers on Wednesday and, considering the state of both clubs, that could very well be the case. Man Utd 0-2 Spurs.
JR: Mourinho‘s return to Old Trafford should be a great watch. The Portuguese manager has won each of his three games since taking over the reins at White Hart Lane. Spurs have every chance too even if their defending has been more comical than an Edinburgh fringe festival performance. With Mauricio Pochettino out of work, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be looking over his shoulder with an increased regularity. Man Utd 1-2 Spurs.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Dele Alli is seemingly back to his best having netted three in his last two and could prove the difference against the Red Devils.
BG: This is a significant basement battle, but Norwich look to have rediscovered their early-season spark and could very well cause an upset at the St Mary’s Stadium. Southampton 1-3 Norwich.
JR: Neither the Saints or the Canaries have looked like they could win a raffle in recent weeks although Norwich have shown some signs of improvements after taking four points off Everton and Arsenal. Southampton have also taken points off Arsenal (who are becoming a charity to those in need this season) and Watford but they will need to continue this recent upturn in form if they are not to be sucked below Daniel Farke’s side on Wednesday. Southampton 1-2 Norwich.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Todd Cantwell was electric against Arsenal on Sunday and has netted in his previous two games.
BG: West Ham may feel that they’ve turned a corner after beating Chelsea, but fans won’t be convinced just yet. Against sides usually as well-drilled and organised as Wolves, the Hammers have struggled to come up with the goods, and that may prove the case at the Molineux. Wolves 2-1 West Ham.
JR: Wolves have lost just once at Molineux this season and are on a nine-game unbeaten run. West Ham can only dream of a run like that but they did manage a shock 1-0 victory over Chelsea at the weekend, giving Manuel Pellegrini a slight reprieve. It is likely to be short-lived and Nuno’s side will continue their great form by bagging all three points. Wolves 2-1 West Ham.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Matt Doherty is really starting to take his game to the next level, netting three goals in his last four games for both club and country.
BG: Liverpool may be without Alisson and Fabinho for this contest, but they should have more than enough quality to see off a struggling Everton side who, let’s face it, look completely lost under Marco Silva at the minute. Liverpool 2-0 Everton.
JR: You never expect Everton to beat Liverpool in the Merseyside derby even if you are an optimistic Toffee supporter. Liverpool have not lost in the league all season and they look too strong for Silva’s men. His days at Goodison Park are surely numbered and Liverpool fans will be hoping they can be the final nail in his coffin. Liverpool 2-0 Everton.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Adrian was dubbed a ‘life-saver’ by Jurgen Klopp in the previous match against Brighton and could elevate his status as an unlikely cult hero among Koppites with a strong performance against the Toffees.
BG: Sheffield Utd are currently enjoying a seven-match unbeaten run and come up against a somewhat inconsistent Newcastle side. However, under Steve Bruce they have improved in recent weeks and should be able to sneak at least a point from this encounter. Sheffield Utd 1-1 Newcastle.
JR: The Blades have been sharp this season (sorry) and deserve every accolade they are currently getting. Chris Wilder has managed at every level from the conference to the Premier League, learning and developing at each club he has managed from Oxford United to Northampton. Newcastle are also looking better than many expected under Bruce and he deserves a lot of credit for their recent improvement. This one will be close. Sheffield Utd 1-1 Newcastle.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Lys Mousset has scored five goals in his last five starts and is looking like one of the signings of the season.
BG: Despite coming up short against Norwich at the weekend, Arsenal face a Brighton side just outside the relegation zone, while they really need to put in a performance to appease their frustrated fans. On home turf and under the lights, Ljungberg will be desperate to seal a first win as interim coach. Arsenal 3-1 Brighton.
JR: The chortling masses will be taking delight in the fact that Arsenal have not won any of their last six Premier League games and are now looking for their another manager following the dismissal of Unai Emery. Ljungberg is currently holding the fort but a 2-2 draw at Carrow Road will have done little to lift the gloom hovering over the Emirates. Brighton have hit a tough run of games which has contributed to three straight defeats but you would still expect them to get the obligatory point from a trip to north London. Arsenal 2-2 Brighton.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang took his league tally to double digits over the weekend and will be looking to keep up with high-flying Jamie Vardy in the Golden Boot race during a busy festive period.