City boss Chris Hughton will find himself at the eye of the title storm this Yule as the Canaries prepare to play host to first Chelsea and then reigning champions, Manchester City.
The latter took themselves back within four points of neighbours Manchester United at the weekend with that last-gasp 1-0 win over struggling Reading as United were held to a 1-1 draw at The Liberty Stadium.
Chelsea, of course, ripped Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa to pieces with that 8-0 success – a result that took the European Cup holders to within 11 points of the two Manchester clubs and still with a game in hand.
Seven players were on the score-sheet – proof that the Londoners have goals from every area of the pitch. And can afford to do without the services of England striker Daniel Sturridge as he looks to complete his £12 million switch to Liverpool.
Little wonder that Hughton is approaching the next two games with an element of wariness as Rafa Benitez starts to win over the Chelsea faithful and put new life into a previously improbable title assault.
“They have great attacking options,” Hughton told Sky Sports today, as the Canaries braced themselves for two, huge challenges in the festive week ahead.
That ten-game unbeaten run has, at least, given themselves a breathing space points-wise on those at the wrong end of the table, but the City chief would be loathe to lose all that momentum on the back of Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at West Bromwich Albion.
And given the fact that City have already beaten both Arsenal and Manchester United at home this season, there is no reason why a further spanner or two couldn’t be thrown into someone’s title works. But the Canaries are hitting Chelsea in the midst of a real, purple patch scoring-wise.
“Victor Moses is starting to show his real quality now. Fernando Torres is hitting very good form,” said Hughton.
“And the fact they kept a clean sheet against Aston Villa as well shows the quality and depth they have throughout the squad.
“They are fairly formidable. They are placed very well in the league with a game in hand. They are still in the Capital One Cup with a great chance to progress [to the final]. At the moment Chelsea are on a high.”
The Norfolk side are, of course, still on something of a roll – one defeat in 11 Premier League games remains some achievement.
Few City punters would have complained had the prospect of a top half position and 25 points on the board by Christmas been on offer a month into the start of Hughton’s managerial reign.
“If someone had asked if would we be happy with the league position and the points we have got at this stage of the season, we would have said ‘Yes!’,” said the City chief, hoping that his new charges can return to their unbeaten ways sooner rather than later.
“It is about trying to continue the good things we have been doing. And a good thing for us is we have been in every game. We certainly deserved a draw from the game at West Brom.”
Their cause was not helped by the absence of skipper Grant Holt at The Hawthorns; all eyes will be on the Boxing Day team-sheet to see whether the 31-year-old talisman returns for the Chelsea visit.
He does appear to enjoy games against the bigger boys and grabbed the opener in that 4-1 away defeat at The Bridge earlier this autumn.
Hughton will also have to assess the fitness of full-back Steven Whittaker. The former Rangers star failed to finish the game at the weekend; Russell Martin looks odds-on to resume his first team role at right-back in the expected absence of his Scottish international colleague.