Possibly one of the most critical matches of the 2014/15 Premier League campaign will take centre stage next Saturday afternoon after the FA Cup does so this weekend, as league leaders Chelsea bid to put themselves almost out of sight when they take on current chasing champions, Manchester City.
The 5.30pm clash at Stamford Bridge on Saturday 31 January - shown live on Sky Sports 1 - will be seen as must-win for both sides, Chelsea potentially moving eight points clear or risking dropping to just two ahead.
Jose Mourinho's Blues dismantled Swansea last weekend in a 5-0 drubbing that proved the opening salvo of a vital weekend for Chelsea. The second blow for Manchester City came when they suffered a 0-2 defeat to previously faltering Arsenal at the Etihad, a result which dropped the champions five points adrift having closed to level pegging just two games ago.
The Everton draw and Arsenal defeat have also pushed Manchester City out to a profitable 5/1 (Sky Bet) to win the title at this stage, the City boss himself commenting that the title may hinge on using this game as the start of a recovery charge.
"It's very important to win the next game against Chelsea", Pellegrini said after the Arsenal defeat. "I hope we are going to recover and play the way we have been playing so far."
Who Will Win?
Manuel Pellegrini's side must hit back instantly, City currently at 3/1 to win (BetVictor) and the better price compared to Chelsea at evens (888sport) or another draw at 13/5 (Bet365).
It cannot be denied that a Manchester City side with Yaya Toure in it will always be the chosen outcome. This said however, with the Ivorian midfield powerhouse on African Cup of Nations duties potentially missing out on the game alongside future team-mate Wilfried Bony, Pellegrini insisted that his City side are still strong enough in midfield to be bettering Chelsea.
Frank Lampard - Chelsea's all-time leading goalscorer - inevitably netted for City against the Blues to deny Mourinho's men three points in the opposing fixture at the Etihad earlier this season, and should feature more heavily in Toure's absence.
Chelsea appear almost irresistable at the moment with their fluidity and passing work, very much a team filled with confidence and a lot of understanding with one another that has seen them break teams down with the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa all very likely to cause problems for the City defence, which the away fans will be delighted to know includes the returning Vincent Kompany.
With no further injury woes for either side other than the notable absence again of Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta, the game will very much be once again a case of both defences keeping talismen Diego Costa and Sergio Aguero as quiet as possible, the former on 17 goals now after three from his last three in the league while Aguero beds himself back into the side after his absence of over a month through injury.
Will There Be Goals?
The clash is one that shows nine more victories for Chelsea with 54 from the head-to-head statistics, although both with a goal average of under 1.5 in a tie that often grinds out a winner rather than displays a domination from one or the other.
With that in mind, the bet of under 1.5 goals appears a much safer proposition at 16/5, as you have to look back to the 2-4 Man City win of 2009/2010 for a win that has ended with a better score than 2-1 or less.
With a lot on the line however, Betfair's 10/1 for no goal at all is not a bizarre one at all considering how hard both must fight to keep a clean sheet.
Who Will Score?
The obvious threats are Aguero for City and Costa for Chelsea, both having looked sublime this season although the former could well have improved highly on his 14-goal tally had it not been for his spell time on the injuries list.
Arguably Chelsea's most impressive player at the moment appears to be Brazilian Oscar however, who netted twice at Swansea and once prior to that against Newcastle, while David Silva is slightly better value for City than Aguero should he continue his current form.
Lampard could be a late threat once again however, while Fabregas is a cut above the rest for creating goals with 13 assists thus far this season.
Correct Score Prediction:
Chelsea 2-0 Manchester City - 21/2 (BetVictor)