Two sides separated by just three points at the top of the table meet when surprise league leaders Leicester City host third-placed Manchester City on Tuesday (7.45pm live on BT Sport).
Leicester will be keen to regain momentum after seeing their 10-match unbeaten run come to an end with a 1-0 defeat away to Liverpool on Boxing Day. The Foxes had climbed to the top of the Premier League table on the back of eight victories and two draws during that stretch and will want to end of the first half of the campaign with victory here.
The most surprising aspect of Saturday’s defeat was that Leicester failed to score for the first time this season. Their ascent to the top of the table had been powered by a league-best attack featuring two of the division’s top performers in Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez – scorers of 28 of Leicester’s 37 goals to date – and Liverpool were the first team to find a way of shutting down Claudio Ranieri’s previously rampant side.
When asked to explain his team’s uncharacteristically subdued performance, Ranieri suggested that the problem was mental rather than physical – that the pressure of being the league-leaders is starting to get to his players. And while Liverpool were tactically astute, the manner in which they defeated the Foxes is not one that the majority of sides will be able to use as a template.
There is, then, little to suggest that the Boxing Day defeat will herald the start of a spectacular slide down the table. Leicester are still a strong and relentless side who are capable of making life difficult for each and every one of their opponents. It is hard to see them finishing lower than sixth, while they still have a good chance of finishing in the top four regardless of their result against Manchester City on Tuesday.
Manuel Pellegrini’s (pictured) side enjoyed an excellent Boxing Day. Three quick-fire goals inside the opening 22 minutes of their match at home to Sunderland laid the path for an eventual 4-1 victory that saw them close in on both Leicester and second-placed Arsenal. Victory in this match would see them move ahead of Leicester on goal difference.
Man City invested heavily over the summer to improve the squad that rather meekly surrendered their league trophy to Chelsea last season. While they have produced some excellent performances, their own little flaws and the growing strength of the rest of the league has seen them score marginally less goals and concede slightly more en route to a points-per-game rate (1.94) that ranks below their average from last season (2.08).
They remain, alongside Arsenal, one of the two clear bookies’ favourites to win the league title but their inability to put together a consistent run of results means that other sides are likely to be in the running right up until the end of the campaign.
After winning their first five fixtures of the season without conceding, City have since failed to string together more than two victories on the bounce and have also been defeated convincingly on three or four occasions. Their potent array of attacking options – bolstered by the summer arrivals of Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling – has not always been matched to a strong defensive unit, particularly when Vincent Kompany has been absent.
The Belgian international lasted just nine minutes as a second-half substitute on Boxing Day and it remains doubtful that he will be ready for the trip to Leicester. Pellegrini kept striker Sergio Aguero on the bench to ensure he would be 100% ready, while his opposite number, Ranieri, brought off his fever-suffering top-scorer Vardy with 20 minutes left to play in order to give him the best possible chance of performing well on Tuesday.
The stage is therefore set for an attractive encounter between two sides who are stronger in attack than they are in defence. Man City have drawn just two Premier League games this season, but a high-scoring draw seems the most likely outcome in this match.