City kept the pressure on leaders Arsenal with a 2-1 win over title rivals Liverpool on Thursday, but there is no time to savour that crucial conquest as the hectic Christmas schedule means Manuel Pellegrini’s team are back in action on Saturday.
Given City’s 100 percent winning record in the league at Eastlands this season, a visit from lowly Crystal Palace will be seen as a certain home victory in many quarters.
A win would take City top of the table ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Newcastle on Sunday, but Argentine right-back Zabaleta knows Pellegrini’s men could be punished if they underestimate a Palace side that has improved under new boss Tony Pulis.
“We have to push even more now. We know December and January is one of the key points for the big teams to make a difference because we play many games and you need to try to keep winning,” Zabaleta said.
“We are very comfortable and we feel good and have huge confidence.
“At the moment we are doing well, are one point behind the leaders and that is why Crystal Palace is also a key game.”
City’s bitter rivals Manchester United travel to Norwich looking to build on a winning run that extended to five matches on Thursday with a 3-2 success at Hull.
United, eight points behind Arsenal in seventh place, fought back from two goals down to beat Hull and boss David Moyes believes that kind of spirited display proves the defending champions shouldn’t be written off despite their spluttering start to the season.
“I never doubted us,” Moyes said. “I think that tells you what Manchester United have got and hopefully it tells you a bit about David Moyes as well.
“Hopefully my teams have always been committed to trying to win games of football.
“All we can do is keep knocking away and hopefully be in there fighting come the end of the season.”
The weekend’s marquee match-up comes on Sunday when Chelsea host Liverpool in a battle between two sides hoping to overhaul Arsenal and City in the title race.
Third placed Chelsea are one point ahead of Liverpool and two behind Arsenal, prompting Serbian defender Branislav Ivanovic to admit the fixture will have a significant impact on the Blues’ title prospects.
“It’s going to be a very important game for us, one of the deciding games this season,” Ivanovic said.
“We must be ready for the big fight. Our team likes to play big games and big challenges.
“I hope we’re going to be ready for Liverpool, because it’s a massive, massive game for us.”
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is confident his players will recover from their setback at City and deliver a dynamic display in another major test of their title credentials.
“We went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in Europe. We take great confidence from that,” Rodgers said of the match against City.
“That was a big statement from us. Now we are just focusing on the next game and that is all we have done during the course of this calendar year.
“That has served us well. Let’s see where it takes us.”
Arsenal remain the team to catch and German defender Per Mertesacker believes Thursday’s 3-1 win at West Ham, which saw the Gunners hit back from a goal down to end a run of four matches without a win, is ample evidence that they are capable of lasting the pace in the title race.
A 6-3 loss against City and a frustrating 0-0 draw against Chelsea had raised questions about Arsenal, but Mertesacker said: “During the game we always believed in our strengths.
“We want to go on another good run so at the minute we are really proud we are really proud that we came back against West Ham and it shows our character.”
Arsenal travel to improving Newcastle on Sunday.
Fixtures (1500GMT unless stated)
Aston Villa v Swansea, Cardiff v Sunderland (1730GMT), Hull v Fulham, Manchester City v Crystal Palace, Norwich v Manchester United, West Ham v West Brom (1245GMT)
Chelsea v Liverpool (1600GMT), Everton v Southampton (1330GMT), Newcastle v Arsenal (1330GMT), Tottenham v Stoke (1600GMT)