Everton do battle with Chelsea on Sunday (1.30pm GMT, live on Sky Sports) knowing that victory would see them finish 2012 ahead of the West London side.
The Toffees are fifth in the Premier League with 33 points from eight wins, nine draws and two defeats. They are level on points with fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur and just two behind third-placed Chelsea, albeit having played one match more.
It has been an excellent start to the season for David Moyes’ men, who usually struggle in the first half of the campaign only to mount a concerted top six challenge after Christmas.
Everton are unbeaten in seven matches (four draws, three victories) coming into Sunday’s fixture and have won three of their last four, the most recent of which was a 2-1 victory over Wigan on Boxing Day.
It was a scrappy performance bereft of quality, but one that nevertheless yielded three points thanks to second half goals from Phil Jagielka and the excellent Leon Osman.
The suspended Marouane Fellaini was badly missed. In his absence Victor Anichebe partnered Nikica Jelavic up front, but the pair failed to form an effective coalition, making similar runs and showing little intelligence in their attempted link up play.
Fellaini will again be suspended against Chelsea and Moyes will surely be examining other options to partner Jelavic, the best of Everton’s striking options despite scoring just twice in his last ten matches. Kevin Miralles could have been in the frame, but the speedy Belgian will again miss out due to a hamstring injury that has sidelined him for the last couple of weeks.
Everton have perhaps not been at their best for the last month or so, but can certainly never be accused of shirking on effort and even when not on top form have an ability to pick up points. Moyes has a fashioned a strong, hard-working side. In the likes of Osman, Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines, they also possess a good deal of quality.
Moyes will lock horns with an old foe on Sunday when former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez brings his Chelsea side to Goodison Park on the back of three consecutive league victories.
Chelsea are third in the table with 35 points from 10 wins, five draws and three defeats, but have a game in hand over those around them due to their participation in the Club World Cup. Victory here would move them to within a point of City and eight of leaders Manchester United.
Benitez inherited a side who, after performing well in the opening weeks of the season, were showing a distinct lack of balance between attack and defence. This was most visible during their failed Champions League campaign, but also displayed by the fact that they failed to keep a clean sheet in any of Roberto Di Matteo’s final seven Premier League matches in charge.
Since Benitez took the reins, Chelsea have kept four clean sheets in six league matches, conceding just four goals at a rate of 0.67 per match. Their new-found defensive organisation was clear to see on Boxing Day, when they shackled a good Norwich team to come away from Carrow Road with a 1-0 victory thanks to an excellent strike from Juan Mata.
Mata has scored in three of his last four league matches and is revelling in the additional responsibility handed to him by Benitez. Whereas central creative duties were rotated between Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar under Di Matteo, the more rigid set up under Benitez means Mata is a fixed presence in the centre of the line of three behind Fernando Torres.
David Luiz is also enjoying life under Benitez, performing well in a new defensive midfield role in the two Christmas fixtures to date. He has made a couple of positional errors, as is to be expected from someone unfamiliar with the position, but his use of the ball has been uniformly excellent.
His errors are also not as costly in midfield as they would be in defence, where Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill have formed a good partnership in his absence.
Everton v Chelsea Betting Tips
Everton are unbeaten at home so far this season and have already defeated both Manchester United and Tottenham at Goodison Park. However they are not at full strength and would likely be content with a draw against an improving Chelsea side.
Benitez only lost three times in 14 encounters with Moyes when he was in charge at Liverpool and will be confident of securing at least a point against his old rival.