December is undoubtedly a key stage in the footballing calander; it is where the real precedent for the rest of the season is set. One could argue, that this weekend is one of the most important in the Premier League season. With Chelsea away playing at the Club World Cup, it gives the Manchester sides a chance to extend their leads before the Blue return and Everton, Spurs and West Brom the opportunity to draw level on point with the Londoners. At the opposite end of the table, three teams- Southampton, Villa and Wigan- sit on 15 points, with Roberto Martinez's side in the drop zone due to goal difference.
Here we look ahead to this weekend's fixtures.
Saturday 15 December
Newcastle vs Man City- Alan Pardew has expressed his concern for his team's form recently, whilst Man City will be looking to close the gap at the top. The Magpies are without Hatem Ben Arfa, Steven Taylor and Yohan Cabaye. The away sides captain Vincent Kompany has missed training this week after picking up an injury during the Manchester derby.
Liverpool vs Aston Villa- Both clubs grabbed impressive wins in their last games. Liverpool fans will be pleased at the sight of top-scorer Luis Suarez's return from suspension. Paul Lambert has a long injury list; with names such as Ron Vlaar, Enda Stevens and Darren Bent included on that list.
Man United vs Sunderland- Lowly Sunderland travel to Old Trafford at the weekend. Club captain Nemanja Vidic is set to make his long awaited comeback in the starting XI after two months out. However there is something Sunderland fans can rejoice at- in form, Wayne Rooney is expected to be rested after picking up an illness.
Norwich vs Wigan- The Canaries will be looking to recover quickly from their disappointing midweek defeat at the hands of ex boss, Paul Lambert. The home side will be without Goalkeeper John Ruddy again this Saturday. Wigan are also missing a key player, in captain Gary Caldwell.
QPR vs Fulham- Rangers are still looking for their first league win this season- could this West London derby be their first victory? Both managers have no fresh injury concerns. Harry Redknapp may opt to start Djibril Cisse after the Frenchman's impressive, goal-scoring display last weekend.
Stoke v Everton- Both teams have been on a good run of late- Everton sit in fourth position, whilst the Potters are undefeated in 14 home games. Stoke welcome back Charlie Adam after suspension but Ryan Shotton will miss out. Michael Owen is set to make an appearance for the home side. The Toffees will still be without captain Phil Neville.
Sunday 16 December
Tottenham vs Swansea- The Swans will be looking to record their first ever win at White Hart Lane. Gareth Bale remains sidelined for the home side, but Scott Parker is set to be named on the bench. Michael Laudrup is still without first choice keeper Michel Vorm and Neil Taylor.
West Brom vs West Ham- The Baggies have stumbled in form since the start of December. Without any new injury problems and their formidable home form, Steve Clarke will be confident his side can get back to winning ways. The Hammers are missing six regular starters, including Andy Carroll.