London:While their counterparts in mainland Europe are resting on their winter break, English clubs are once again warming up for their most hectic spell of the season.
Premier League clubs are set to play two matches in as little as three days starting Saturday before making their entrance into the FA Cup next weekend.
And if that wasn't enough to worry about, several clubs including leader Chelsea are about to lose players to the African Cup of Nations.
Chelsea is already without the injured Nicolas Anelka at in-form Birmingham on Saturday and will be even more lightweight in attack against local rival Fulham on Monday because Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou will have left to link up with the Ivory Coast national side.
That will leave coach Carlo Ancelotti with strikers Daniel Sturridge and Fabio Borini, neither of whom has scored in their debut seasons with Chelsea.
Ancelotti said his squad can cope, even with midfielders Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel also departing with Ghana and Nigeria, and he will not ask the Chelsea owner for new players in the January transfer window.
"I didn't ask owner Roman for new players and he has not asked me if I want them," Ancelotti said. "I have a lot of confidence in my strikers. Not only Drogba, not only Kalou, not only Anelka. Also Sturridge and Borini.
"I think that we have good solutions internally. We don't need new players in this moment."
Anelka should be fit to return from a hamstring tear in January.
Drogba can give Chelsea a boost before departing by adding to his 13 Premier League goals this season at Birmingham and helping protect the Blues' four-point lead over Manchester United.
Defending champion United is at Hull on Sunday and then hosts Wigan on Wednesday.
United will have twins Rafael and Fabio da Silva back from injury to boost a defense lacking Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown and Nemanja Vidic _ although the latter pair should be fit to play Wigan.
"We rushed Fabio back a little bit, but given the situation we find ourselves in sometimes you have to do that," manager Alex Ferguson said. "Rafa's only trained for a few days but he will be involved on Sunday."
The hectic schedule will not help United's attempts to rebound from a shocking 3-0 loss at Fulham or reduce its lengthy injury list.
Fans and commentators have regularly cited the lack of a winter break as one of the main reasons England's national team struggles to match those of Germany, Spain and Italy at major tournaments.
That trio have won nine major tournaments since England's sole World Cup win in 1966 but, despite injuries and fatigue, few in England seem willing to give up the long established tradition of matches over the Christmas period.
And with the Premier League refusing to consider a drop from 20 to 18 teams, there will be no time for a winter break any time soon.
"Hull will be encouraged by our injury problems, and I'm sure they'll have a go at us," Ferguson said.
The positive side of such a hectic spell is that it is possible for teams to build momentum quickly.
That is what Liverpool is hoping for as it seeks to recover from a 2-0 loss at last-place Portsmouth. Liverpool is languishing in eighth place and has already dropped 27 points, just one fewer than in the whole of last season.
Manager Rafa Benitez may start Alberto Aquilani for the first time in a Premier League match against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday because midfielder Javier Mascherano is starting a four-match suspension.
Liverpool is then at Aston Villa on Tuesday.
Roberto Mancini makes his debut as Manchester City manager against Stoke on Saturday before visiting Wolves on Monday, while Aston Villa tries to keep its spot in the top four when it plays at third-place Arsenal on Sunday and then hosts Liverpool.
Arsenal's other match is at Portsmouth on Wednesday.
League Championship leader Newcastle is at Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday before hosting Derby two days later. But its 10-point lead over West Bromwich Albion and Nottingham Forest means it can lose both games and still stay top.