LONDON (Reuters) - The much-anticipated clash between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield on Saturday looks like a knockout to determine who can challenge Chelsea for the Premier League title.
A draw would do neither side any favours in their pursuit of Antonio Conte's Blues who are six points clear of second-placed Liverpool and threatening to disappear over the horizon even before new year.
City lie one point further back in third and have traditionally reserved some of their worst performances for Liverpool. Last season they were humiliated 4-1 at home and have not won at Anfield since 2003.
At least they seem unlikely to face their chief recent tormentor, Philippe Coutinho, who is recovering from an ankle injury. Coutinho has scored five goals in his last six games against them.
They can also call on Sergio Aguero to lead their attack as he has completed a four-game suspension.
Much will depend on how Liverpool's wobbly defence handles the Argentine although they possess plenty of threat at the other end with Adam Lallana leading the comeback in Tuesday's 4-1 victory over Stoke City and Daniel Sturridge fit and firing again after scoring his first Premier League goal of the season.
City must also keep a close eye on Sadio Mane, who scored a hat-trick in his last game against them, for Southampton in a 4-2 win this year.
Pep Guardiola watched Tuesday's victory from the stands and knows Anfield will again be red hot. Stoke, meanwhile, will need to show more resilience at Stamford Bridge to prevent Chelsea bagging a 13th successive Premier League win to equal the record set by Arsenal in one season in 2001-02.
Chelsea's Diego Costa and N'Golo Kante both return from suspension but Pedro is missing after receiving his fifth booking of the season in Tuesday's 3-0 win over Bournemouth.
Champions Leicester City are deep in trouble after just one win in nine games and will again be without the suspended Jamie Vardy against fast improving West Ham United. Claudio Ranieri must decide whether to recall Riyad Mahrez after dropping the Algerian against Everton.
Mahrez is one of four Leicester players about to depart for the African Nations Cup so the Italian is expected to spend heavily in the transfer window. Swansea City are also looking to strengthen their under-performing squad once they appoint a manger to succeed Bob Bradley who was sacked this week.
The Swans are 19th and desperately need a win at home to Bournemouth. The only side below them, Hull City, entertain Everton on Friday while 15th-placed Middlesbrough, away to Manchester United on Saturday, are among the sides looking anxiously below them.
Sam Allardyce's Crystal Palace face a difficult game at Arsenal on Sunday when Tottenham Hotspur make the short trip to Watford.
Editing by Clare Lovell