Stuttering Chelsea retained their Premier League lead by virtue of the alphabet heading into the new year but will need a quick riposte at home to Newcastle United on Saturday to hold Manchester City at bay.
Jose Mourinho’s side gleaned a mere four points from nine during a frenzy of holiday fixtures and a humbling 5-3 loss at Tottenham Hotspur on Jan. 1 meant champions City restored parity at the top having at one stage trailed by eight points.
An easy FA Cup win over second tier Watford offered Chelsea a breather, but they host managerless Newcastle knowing their margin for error between now and May is miniscule.
Buoyant City, who are level on points (46), goal difference (25) and goals scored (44) with Chelsea, are away at struggling Everton on the same day, looking to continue a blistering run which has yielded 26 points from the last 30 on offer.
After Mourinho`s side had threatened to run away with it earlier in the season, the title race now effectively starts from scratch with an 18-match sprint.
Chelsea`s stumbles have happened away from home with losses to Newcastle and Tottenham and a draw at Southampton.