LONDON — The Premier League relegation battle could become clearer this week when Bolton and Blackburn — the bottom two clubs — go head-to-head.
With the season just short of halfway, the local rivals have five wins between them and their combined points tally wouldn't even earn a place in the top half of the standings.
Both are creating chances but neither can stop goals at the other end, so Tuesday's match at Ewood Park could be at least as entertaining as leader Manchester City's match against Stoke or defending champion Manchester United's visit to Fulham.
While most major European leagues head into their winter break, the Premier League ramps up for a packed Christmas schedule with a full midweek program of matches.
But both Bolton and Blackburn could do with some time off to recuperate.
"We are in a real dogfight now," Bolton manager Owen Coyle said after Saturday's 2-0 loss at Fulham. "We know all the problems we have had but we also know the group we have are capable of giving bigger performances.
"There's no doubt that we have to go to Blackburn on Tuesday and play Newcastle and Wolves after Christmas and take points. Confidence is key in football and certainly this is one of those times when it is being tested."
Bolton has missed the attacking threat of Johan Elmander after the Sweden striker left during the offseason, while Coyle's commitment to attacking, entertaining football has led to space for opponents to exploit — particularly with combative midfielder Stuart Holden out injured.
Blackburn also has injury worries, with defender Gael Givet out for a short while as he has minor surgery to correct an irregular heartbeat.
"It doesn't seem to be a big operation, it's just a small procedure that the specialist seemed to think was pretty straightforward," Blackburn manager Steve Kean said.
Kean arguably needs a win more than Coyle, who at least retains some goodwill from the fans who watched him perform for the club as a player. Blackburn supporters have been agitating for Kean's dismissal for months, with a banner urging his exit even being flown from a plane over the stadium.
Blackburn is just a point ahead of 20th-place Bolton, which has nine points.
Wolverhampton Wanderers is just above the relegation zone and hosts Norwich in Tuesday's other game. Wigan, the third team in the drop zone, hosts Liverpool in one of Wednesday's seven matches.
Wigan is the relegation zone's form team with one loss in a five-match run that includes last week's 1-1 draw with title-chasing Chelsea.
City hosts Stoke with a two-point lead over United, having bounced back from a first loss of the season to beat Arsenal 1-0 on Sunday.
"Like Arsenal, Stoke will come here having won four Premier League games in a row, so it will be yet another hard game," City manager Roberto Mancini said.
United needs to improve on a poor recent record at Fulham if it is to keep in touch with City. The defending champions have lost two and drawn one of their last three visits to Craven Cottage.
Also Wednesday, Aston Villa hosts Arsenal, Newcastle hosts West Bromwich Albion, Everton hosts Swansea and Queens Park Rangers hosts Sunderland.
Tottenham hosts fourth-place Chelsea in Thursday's only match. After a 16-year winless streak in the league against its London rival, third-place Tottenham is now unbeaten in Premier League meetings at White Hart Lane since August 2005.