AFTER an eventful week, highlighted by Chelsea and their manager Jose Mourinho parting company, a weekend of English Premier League high-octane action awaits with a few mouth-watering fixtures.
Headlining these will be league leaders Leicester City’s visit to Everton today and title contenders Arsenal welcoming Manchester City on Monday night.
Manchester United’s home game against Norwich City today and Liverpool’s trip to Watford will also feature on the radar. But the match of the day today will be at Goodison Park where Leicester’s credentials will again be questioned, as if they needed to be.
Toffees boss Roberto Martinez has no doubt in his mind that Leicester are genuine title contenders and said that it was not a good time to face Claudio Ranieri’s Foxes as they have the wind in their sails.
Indeed, Leicester have confounded their critics as they perch atop the Premier League standings with a two-point cushion.
Notwithstanding this, Martinez reckons they are up for the challenge and will relish Leicester’s visit. The Spaniard might have to do without the services of midfielder James McCarthy, who has a hip injury, but will be pleased to hear that central defender John Stones’ ankle problem will not keep him out of the crunch tie.
As expected and since the start of their dream-like campaign thus far, the Foxes will look to Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez to lead their charge.
These two lads have been a revelation this season and have proved beyond any doubt that they can take on the best defences in the league and leave them embarrassed.
And sensing an onslaught of interest from the big and rich clubs when the January transfer window opens on New Year’s Day, Ranieri said this week that they would reject any overtures for his star players.
This came after the irony of the Italian leading his side to victory over his old club Chelsea on Monday that sealed the ousting of Mourinho, the man who replaced him at Stamford Bridge in 2003.
Leicester will know Everton pose a serious threat to their reign at the top of the table – both sides going into the game unbeaten in their last six matches – but they will also have one eye on their next two games as well.
On Boxing Day, next Saturday, Leicester travel to Liverpool and then three days later (Dec 29) they are home to Man City.
Needless to say, the next 10 days could prove pivotal in determining just how strong Leicester are and whether they do in fact have the capacity to still figure in the shake-up for the Premiership at the end of the season.
The two sides at the Emirates on Monday will be expecting nothing short of that.
Arsenal have been some people’s favourite for the league crown before the season started and so far there is no reason to suggest why they can’t go all the way and win a first title since 2004.
Arsene Wenger’s squad is a potent one but they do have weaknesses and perhaps none more apparent than their defence.
Then again, the same thing could be said about a City side that the British bookmakers have installed as their favourites.
City’s inconsistencies are what have given the rest of the league hope. They blow hot and cold in equal measure. But when they are hot, they are very hot.
And this usually happens when Sergio Aguero and David Silva are in the team.
Presently the latter is sidelined with injury and Silva is only beginning to find his silky touch after coming back from injury himself.
The return to the side of Yaya Toure last weekend was also a boost for the Citizens, who, with or without Aguero, will be aiming to leave London with all three points under their belt.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini will also know that a win on Monday would go a long way to strengthening their belief in themselves and hold them in good stead for the busy holiday period ahead. They are at home to Sunderland on Boxing Day.
The Gunners, for their part, will make the trip down to Southampton on Boxing Day before welcoming Bournemouth two days later.
Wenger revealed this week that his Chilean star Alexis Sanchez might be fit to take on City.
Should he play, it would be a massive lift for the home side, who are second on the log and just one point ahead of the Citizens.
For all the moaning and groaning by their fans, Manchester United are fourth in the standings, a mere six points off top spot.
Their home fixture against Norwich should consolidate that position and give manager Louis Van Gaal some respite in the face of growing criticism that his team are not playing with the kind of flair that they so desire.
But in this league that is laden with surprises and everything else that confounds the expected, the boss is wily enough to know that you take a win anyway you can get it – and then move on.
He might also want to remind the Old Trafford faithful that they didn’t play in the Champions League last season and that he changed that for them; even if they were ambushed in this season’s tournament to drop down to the Europa League.
Liverpool, too, will be hopeful of a victory when they take on Watford at Vicarage Road Stadium tomorrow.
But it will not be easy. The Hornets have been in good form of late and Quique Sanchez Flores will obviously be keen to continue with it.
Watford’s Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo have been touted by some as the most lethal strike partnership in the league.
And while that might be up for debate, Liverpool would do well to be wary of these two forwards who play fearlessly and with exceptional precision in front of goal.
The Hornets are seventh on the Premiership log and that is testament to their form.
So rest assured, they’ll be hell bent on stopping the 10th-placed Reds from creeping up on them. Only one point separates the two clubs.
And while they do, they’ll also, like the rest of the league, be mindful of how Leicester are doing, if only because this is the team of the moment – or should it be team of the season?