Manchester City defender Pablo Zabaleta believes the return of Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and Edin Dzeko will give them a significant boost in what is an important month.
A 1-1 draw at Everton saw Chelsea move two points ahead at the top of the Barclays Premier League and with a trip to Stamford Bridge to come at the end of January they cannot afford any more slip-ups.
However, amid the disappointment at Goodison Park the sight of top scorer Aguero coming off the bench for his first appearance since early December was a welcome one.
Kompany, also out for a month, was also back in the squad as an unused substitute and while Dzeko did not make the bench he is not far away from a comeback.
Aguero and Kompany are in contention to start at home to Arsenal next weekend and Zabaleta thinks the return of key players - especially with Yaya Toure at the African Nations Cup - is timely even though City have won 11 and drawn three of their last 14 matches.
“They are really important players for the team,” said Zabaleta.
“We need all the best players 100 per cent fit because this is a crucial moment for the team. There are a lot of games coming up, with the Champions League as well.
“Hopefully they can stay 100 per cent fit for the next games and we are looking forward to it.”
Despite losing ground on Chelsea, the defender said what Jose Mourinho’s side did was not an issue for them.
However, he admitted they had to still be in touch when the pair meet this month.
“We know the race for the title is going to be very tough,” Zabaleta added.
“Chelsea are in great form as well but every single game in the league is a final. When you play away from home you don’t have any easy games and teams can drop points.
“We have Arsenal next weekend and we have to win that before we think about the Chelsea game.”