MANCHESTER CITY TRAINING COMPLEX, CARRINGTON—Manuel Pellegrini believes December will be a "very important" month for Manchester City, as they attempt to close the gap on leaders Arsenal at the top of the Premier League table.
City play seven league games between now and January 1, as well as a Champions League trip to Bayern Munich and a Capital One Cup quarter-final match away at Leicester. It's a hectic schedule that will be a huge test of City's trophy-winning credentials.
Pellegrini's side have struggled away from home so far this season, only managing one win in six matches on the road and taking just four points from a possible 18. They now face two crucial away games in quick succession, with a visit to West Brom on Wednesday followed by a trip to Southampton this Saturday.
West Brom are a side who have taken just six points from their last six games but have the capability to surprise any side in the division, while Southampton have made a fantastic start to the season and lie seventh in the table, just three points behind City.
Both sides try and play a passing style of football, which may suit City who have struggled against direct, physical sides this season. If they can take six points, it could be the springboard for a better run of results that would see them put pressure on Arsenal.
Boosted by the return of their influential captain Vincent Kompany, who has been out with a thigh injury since the match with Everton back in October, City will now be looking to improve their away record and catch Arsenal, who are six points ahead of them. Having won seven matches out of seven at the Etihad, it's only their away form which has prevented them from getting closer to the North London side.
They've looked shaky defensively at times this season, and Kompany's return could make a real difference away from home where they have conceded some sloppy goals. His leadership and ability to organise are crucial, and his absence has undoubtedly had an adverse effect. He is arguably their most important player.
Speaking at today's press conference at the club's Carrington training complex, Pellegrini said Kompany was a "very important player":
Kompany is tomorrow in the squad list. Tomorrow he will travel with the team. Vincent is a very important player, he is a very good defender and of course we need him.
Not only (is December) a test, the amount of points we are going to play for in December is very important for all the teams, 27 points in one month is a lot of points.
We are six points behind Arsenal in the table. We have six or seven teams that are within three points, so it's very important to try and win as much as we can.
The next two matches offer City the ideal opportunity to reverse their away form and begin to put more pressure on the sides above them. Two wins would see them full of confidence going into the home game with Arsenal in less than two weeks' time.
City's attack is devastating—37 goals in 13 league games is testament to that—and Kompany's return could be just what they need to find that elusive consistency.
December is a month that could define City's season.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013/14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @TypicalCity