Manchester, England – Manchester City is set to face Everton at the Etihad on Saturday, a match that is vital to the club's hope of retaining its Premier League crown.
The Citizens come into the weekend occupying second place to Manchester United, and with some potential absences to key players looming in the near future, every point matters.
The Africa Cup of Nations is set to resume in January, and with the Ivory Coast likely to call up Kolo Toure, Yaya Toure and City fringe player Abdul Razak, Roberto Mancini's side could be looking quite thin at the beginning of the new year.
"If we lost Yaya and Kolo and maybe Abdul - who has not played a lot of games here, but maybe in January could be important - if we have two or three players injured and we don't have other players, I hope that they don't go to this competition," Mancini said. "We talk and we need to talk more with their (international) manager, but it is difficult."
The potential loss of the trio places added importance on Saturday's tilt with Everton. Even though the Toffees are winless in their last three league contests, they are no slouches, coming into the match in sixth place with 22 points.
But Everton is sure to find goals hard to come by. City's defensive record is tops in the Premier League thus far, leaking just 10 goals through 14 games including one goal in its last six matches.
"When people said you concede a lot of goals, we concede a lot in the Champions League, maybe," said Mancini. "In the Premier League, after six or seven games we conceded maybe two goals more than last year, not ten. But it's clear, at this moment, we are working better but this is because all the team is working in the defensive phase."
Should City take three points, Manchester United would need to win to retain first place in the Premier League. The Red Devils head to the Madejski on Saturday to take on Reading, which has lost two straight and sits second from bottom with nine points on the season.
Rafa Benitez has been in charge at Chelsea for two matches and has not seen his side concede a goal. Both matches finished scoreless, and the Blues could be heading for a similar result on Saturday against a West Ham team that has scored just three goals in its last five outings.
Also on Saturday, Arsenal welcomes Swansea City to the Emirates, Fulham hosts Tottenham at Craven Cottage, Liverpool takes on Southampton at Anfield, Stoke City heads to the Hawthorns to face West Bromwich, and QPR and Aston Villa square off at Loftus Road.
On Sunday, Norwich City looks to extend its unbeaten run to eight games when it welcomes Sunderland to Carrow Road, and Newcastle hopes to snap a four-game slide when it hosts Wigan at Sports Direct Arena on Monday.