Festive Premiership period begins

Updated: December 21, 2012

While the rest of Europe’s leagues settle down into their customary festive breaks, the English Premiership enters a defining stage of the season. The next few weeks will be a severe test in the resolve of some the league’s top players as they embark on a campaign that can reap as many as 15 points and provide some answers as to who will be fighting for survival and who will be battling it out for Europe come the end of the season.

Manchester United sit top of the Premiership ahead of their bitter rivals Manchester City, an imitative they hold by 6 points at this stage. Roberto Mancini and his team need to maximize their efforts during this time in order to remain in touching distance with United however they have some injury concerns that might hamper their efforts when they begin this weekend against Reading. Captain Vincent Kompany and midfielder Sami Nasri are both concerns this weekend, Kompany limped out of the derby with a groin injury, forcing him to miss last weekend’s 3-1 win at Newcastle United, and he is a major doubt for Saturday’s game. Nasri picked up a similar injury in the game at St James’ Park and looks set to be out for two weeks, potentially ruling him out of City’s entire festive programme.

To compound matters for coach Roberto Mancini, central midfielder Jack Rodwell has revealed that he will probably be out of action until the beginning of 2013 due to a hamstring injury that he sustained in October.

Injuries aside, Mancini will expect his side to take all three points at home to a Reading team who sank to the foot of the table last weekend and were thrashed 5-2 at home by Arsenal on Monday.

City can close to within three points of top spot if they beat Reading, with United not in action until their lunchtime trip to Swansea City on Sunday.

Arsenal kick off the weekend programme at home to third-bottom Wigan Athletic on Saturday, when victory would provisionally propel them up to third place. The Gunners are full of confidence following their rout of Reading earlier in the week and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was given further reason for optimism in mid-week when Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Carl Jenkinson and Aaron Ramsey all agreed new contracts.

The Frenchman faces demands from supporters to improve his squad in the January transfer window, but he says the performance at Reading proves that the team are on the right track.

Tottenham Hotspur quietly stole into the top four last weekend and they can put pressure on third place Chelsea, who host Aston Villa on Sunday, with victory at home to Stoke City. Gareth Bale and Michael Dawson are both expected to return from injury for Spurs.

Everton, who have slipped to sixth after winning just two of their last 11 fixtures, visit West Ham United, while West Bromwich Albion will also hope to buck a run of disappointing results when they host Norwich City.

Harry Redknapp remains unbeaten at the helm of QPR, and following their first win of the season against Fulham, there are signs that Redknapp is steering the club away from danger. This weekend they face Newcastle who will be looking to put their 3-1 loss to City behind them.

Liverpool, stunned 3-1 at home by Villa last weekend, host Fulham, while Southampton tackle fellow relegation candidates Sunderland at St Mary’s.