Liverpool and Arsenal play off for title of 'crisis club'
Premier League preview: Man City aim to dislodge Chelsea at the top as Gunners visit Anfield
Could this be the weekend that Chelsea are knocked off the top of the Premier League table for the first time this season? With the Blues not playing until Monday and Man City now only three points behind, the reigning champions will go top if they can beat Crystal Palace by four goals or more on Saturday.
But despite the rebirth of the title race, the most intriguing games come further down the table, with the battle of the fallen giants – Liverpool v Arsenal – and the North East derby between Newcastle and Sunderland on Sunday catching the eye.
With plenty to play for throughout the weekend, here's the best of the action.
Liverpool v Arsenal
The last time these two sides were actively involved in the title race at the same time was probably back in 2001-2, when the Gunners went on to win the league with Liverpool finishing in second, seven points behind them. This time round they go into the game in 11th and sixth place respectively. That said this is still one of the biggest games in the English football calendar, even if pride and European qualification are what's at stake these days.
Liverpool will hope they are back on track after a dismal few weeks in the Premier League. They have won only two of their last eight league games and are languishing in the bottom half of the table. The Reds were also knocked out of the Champions League this month, but they are in the semi-finals of the League Cup after beating Bournemouth in midweek.
But with Daniel Sturridge now in America in a bid to overcome a longstanding thigh problem, Mario Balotelli banned and Rickie Lambert warming the bench, Brendan Rodgers will start with the diminutive Raheem Sterling on his own up front. That suggests that a repeat of last season's mauling, when the Reds trounced the Gunners 5-1, is unlikely.
However, Arsenal are, as ever, facing something of an injury crisis, this time in midfield. Fortunately, their talisman Alexis Sanchez is not among the walking wounded and there is a chance that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be fit, while Theo Walcott could make an appearance.
The Gunners will be confident after last week's beating of Newcastle, but pride often comes before a fall for Arsenal these days. Whoever loses will be branded a club in crisis, which makes a draw the most likely outcome, even if it does little for either side's league aspirations.
Man City v Crystal Palace
Saturday's lunchtime kick-off should be a rout, shouldn't it? Well, City might have seven straight wins under their belt, but they have no senior strikers fit for the visit of the Eagles, which will give Neil Warnock's side some hope.
Unfortunately for the visitors, the likes of Yaya Toure and Frank Lampard are available, David Silva is back from injury and Manuel Pellegrini also has Jesus Navas and Samir Nasri at his disposal. City need to win by four goals to go top of the table, and they will believe they can do it, even with rookie Jose Pozo leading the line.
At the back, though, Vincent Kompany will also be missing, which means another chance to marvel at the efforts of Eliaquim Mangala, whose erratic performances are proving to be as entertaining as any Christmas panto.
Winger Yannick Bolasie is likely to be Palace's main weapon, but it's doubtful that he and his team-mates will be leaving the Etihad with anything to show for their efforts.
Aston Villa v Man United
Six wins in a row, four of them by the odd goal, have seen Man United return to familiar territory at the top of the table. But although they have ridden their luck in recent weeks, Louis van Gaal's side have also shown a bloody-mindedness that will serve them well for the rest of the campaign.
The run of form has even led to talk of a title challenge. However, United's problems, especially at the back, have not gone away and sooner or later they will be caught out. The combination of speed, guile and muscle provided by Gabby Agbonlahor and Christian Benteke could cause havoc in the United rearguard.
But United have firepower of their own and with Angel di Maria close to a return they should be at least able to avoid defeat against Villa.
There will be no reunion with Roy Keane this weekend now that the former United skipper has left Villa, while Tom Cleverly will also be missing for Villa against his parent club.
Newcastle v Sunderland
Sunday's North East derby may not be the spectacle that the fans crave. Newcastle's rollercoaster season is now careering downhill again: after five straight league wins the Magpies have taken four points from four and been comprehensively knocked out of the League Cup by Spurs.
Rookie goalkeeper Jak Alnwick had a bad game in midweek and has conceded eight goals in his last two games, but Alan Pardew has no other options and must hope he rediscovers his mojo on Sunday.
Whether or not he will be tested remains to be seen. Sunderland, after the harrowing 8-0 defeat at Southampton, have not been overly adventurous on their travels recently. Still, they don't have far to travel on Sunday so maybe they will go for it.
This weekend's other matches:
Hull v Swansea
QPR v West Brom
Southampton v Everton
Tottenham v Burnley
West Ham v Leicester
Stoke v Chelsea