with Nick Pulford
Manchester City finally broke out of their run of draws with a home win over Chelsea and tonight they can step up their push for a Champions League place with victory in their local derby at Bolton Wanderers.
Last week's win against the Premier League leaders should boost City's confidence after that frustrating run of stalemates, which saw them fall back in the race for a top-four place and virtually ended any hope of a title challenge this season. City won five of their first six games this season before that sequence of draws, so it is possible they could go on a winning run in the coming weeks.
City's forthcoming fixtures look ripe for picking up points, starting with tonight's visit to 19th-placed Bolton. Before the end of the year, City have home games against poor travellers Sunderland and Stoke City as well as a visit to struggling Wolves, so they have a great opportunity to get back into the top four before the transfer window opens in January.
The unlucky derby defeat at Old Trafford is the only blemish on City's record this season and they should be too strong for Bolton, who have been unable to keep a clean sheet this season. Bolton have lost five out of eight against teams in the top half of the table, including three out of four at home.
City are having no problems scoring, having been held scoreless only once, and should have too much firepower for Bolton.
The slight concern with City is their relatively poor away record in north-west derbies, with just two wins out of nine in that category under Mark Hughes. They won 2-0 at Blackburn in their opening game of the season but reverted to type with a draw at Wigan in October, and then another at Liverpool, so there is still that question mark over their derby form.
Stoke continue to be underrated despite showing improvement throughout 2009 and again they rate good value at the odds in their home match against flaky Wigan.
Tony Pulis' side took a little time to find their feet in the Premier League following promotion and at the end of last year they were lying 18th in the table with 20 points, with relegation a distinct possibility.
By the end of the season they had climbed to 12th on 45 points, a comfortable 11 points clear of the drop, and this season they have continued their upward mobility with a current position of 11th. In 2009, Stoke have averaged 1.36 points per game, which equates to 52 points over the course of a full season and makes them a secure mid-table side.
Stoke's main strength is their home form at the intimidating Britannia Stadium, particularly against bottom-half sides such as Wigan. Since promotion, they are undefeated in that category, with six wins out of nine last season and three wins out of four this season.
Wigan have lost five out of six on the road since their surprise win at Aston Villa on the opening weekend - their only other win came at Burnley - and their recent 9-1 defeat at Tottenham suggests they lack the resilience to cope with Stoke's high-intensity game plan.
Tottenham again look home bankers against Wolves, who have lost all three visits to teams in the top half of the table. A couple of those defeats were by big margins - 4-0 at Chelsea and 5-2 at Sunderland - and free-scoring Spurs are likely to cover the handicap in tonight's game.
Jermain Defoe missed a match-winning penalty at Everton last weekend, but still he was on the scoresheet again in the 2-2 draw and helped to continue Tottenham's run of having scored at least two goals in all but one of the matches started by Defoe this season.
Manchester United are likely home winners against Aston Villa, though the outcome may not be as cut and dried as the odds suggest, and punters are paying a heavy premium to include them as a banker.
Villa have won only two out of 13 visits to big-four teams since Martin O'Neill took charge and their record is particularly poor at Old Trafford, where they have lost all three visits under the current coach (4-0, 3-2 and 3-1). Before O'Neill's arrival, they had lost 10 and drawn the other four of their 14 visits to United in the Premier League, and clearly United are one of Villa's bogey teams.
On paper, however, Villa have the capability to hurt United, as they are one of the best counter-attacking teams in the Premier League and have scored in their past 11 away games. O'Neill doesn't have to worry about Cristiano Ronaldo any longer and that means Villa may not be outgunned in a shootout.
Villa's excellent scoring record on the road, plus the history of high scores in this fixture, points to over 2.5 goals as the best bet.
Liverpool v Arsenal is the only fixture in the Premier League tomorrow and, although it lacks the glamour of a crunch match in the title race, this could be another entertaining and high-scoring game.
Both sides have scored in the past 10 Liverpool-Arsenal clashes in all competitions, and five of the six at Anfield have had over 2.5 goals. This season both Liverpool and Arsenal rank in the top five overall for games with over 2.5 goals, so there is a high chance of goals.
Wins out of 15 for Rafa Benitez's Liverpool against Arsenal: 4
Total goals scored in Arsenal's last six visits to Anfield: 34
Games undefeated for Man City - the best current run in the Premiership: 9
Shortlist: Stoke, Leicester, Nottingham Forest, Charlton, Norwich, Getafe, Mainz
Top five tips
1 Stoke home win
Four wins out of five at home this season against non big-four teams
2 Leicester home win
Opponents Sheffield Wednesday are on a downward spiral and are scoreless in four
3 Nottingham Forest on handicap
The only team in the English leagues still unbeaten on the road
4 Getafe home win
Perfect home record in three games against teams outside the top five
5 Mainz home win
The best home team in Germany apart from leaders Leverkusen