LONDON: Widespread pre-season predictions of a two-horse Premier League title race look like being proved correct but the fact it is Leicester City, not Manchester City, vying with Liverpool has provided a novel twist to the plot.
Should Leicester beat lowly Norwich City at home on Saturday (Dec 7) and stretch their winning league run to nine games they will move nine points clear of Pep Guardiola's faltering champions.
Liverpool are expected to demolish bottom club Watford at Anfield in Saturday's early kickoff and extend their unbeaten league run to 34 but if Leicester respond in kind they will keep the gap to Jurgen Klopp's side at eight points.
City, meanwhile, could end the weekend an unthinkable 17 points adrift of Liverpool if they lost at Arsenal on Sunday.
Fourth-placed Chelsea could draw level on points with City if they beat sliding Bournemouth on Saturday.
Fifth-placed Manchester United will seek to continue their upswing in form on Sunday when they host an Everton side likely again to be under the command of Duncan Ferguson, who has temporarily been given the reins in the wake of Marco Silva's sacking.
West Ham United boss Manuel Pellegrini said last week he was not concerned about relegation but should his side go under at 18th-placed Southampton they could slide into the bottom three.
Leicester have rattled in 25 goals in their eight-match winning streak, conceding only three, and victory over second-from-bottom Norwich would set them up perfectly for a Christmas double against Manchester City and Liverpool.
Jamie Vardy's goals have fuelled the charge with the veteran striker topping the scoring charts with 16.
He has found the net in each of his last eight league games and needs to score in his next three to equal his own record set four years ago during their title-winning season.
Brendan Rodgers' side are no longer being dismissed out of hand as title contenders and Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson is one of the many converts.
"I think we've all been a little bit disrespectful to Leicester recently," the former Arsenal title-winner said.
"You've got to start paying attention to them. If they go to the Etihad and get a result next week then it's game on because they still have Liverpool to play at home.
"I'm not saying Leicester will win the Premier League because Liverpool look uncatchable, but Leicester will chase them all of the way."
The other factor in Leicester's favour is Liverpool's brutal schedule and the inevitable injuries. Defender Dejan Lovren limped off in the win at Salzburg on Tuesday and with Joel Matip and Fabinho still sidelined, Liverpool's squad is stretched.
They safely negotiated their way into the Champions League last 16 on Tuesday but face a League Cup quarter-final next week before dashing to Doha for FIFA's Club World Cup.
Their next league assignment after Watford is at Leicester.
Manchester City's hopes of a third successive title already look forlorn after last weekend's derby defeat but midfielder Ilkay Gundogan said the champions must regain their focus.
"In general, in life, if you are successful and have won so many things, sometimes you lose focus during that period," he said in the build-up to City's Champions League game in Zagreb on Wednesday.
"Every single player has to take responsibility to reach his best level again."