Chelsea has hogged top spot in the Premier League but could be without two of their key men when they meet closest rivals, Manchester City.
Diego Costa will play no part in Saturday’s headline Premier League clash between Chelsea and Manchester City, while creator-in-chief, Cesc Fabregas, is in doubt.
Costa was charged with violent conduct by the Football Association for an apparent stamp on Emre Can in Chelsea’s League Cup semi-final win over Liverpool on Tuesday – a game Fabregas limped out of with a hamstring injury – and subsequently handed a three-match ban.
Without Costa and potentially having to replace the league’s most prolific assist provider, Jose Mourinho will have to reshuffle his pack – which may have been on the cards having been taken to extra time by Liverpool – though any hints will not be forthcoming after the Portuguese cancelled his pre-match media conference, having been fined £25,000 this week over comments about referees.
Chelsea sit five points above City at the Premier League summit, with the champions having drawn at Everton and lost to Arsenal after drawing level with Mourinho’s side with a strong run of festive results.
The late kick-off match at Stamford Bridge provides City’s first chance to respond to last weekend’s FA Cup elimination at the hands of Championship promotion hopefuls Middlesbrough, with Chelsea themselves still rebuilding confidence after a stunning 4-2 loss to Bradford City.
Manuel Pellegrini has his own star striker, Sergio Aguero, fit and firing after a knee injury, while Frank Lampard’s return to Stamford Bridge is sure to intrigue.
Chelsea’s all-time leading goalscorer joined City in pre-season in a move that has caused some controversy and he has already come back to haunt the fans who revered him so much – hitting his new employers’ equaliser in September’s 1-1 draw between the sides at the Etihad Stadium.
Lampard was regardless handed a warm reception by Chelsea’s fans that day, with another generous welcome expected on his return to west London – which could come from the start in City’s midfield.
Any hopes Pellegrini may have held of having Yaya Toure back in his midfield were dashed on Wednesday by Ivory Coast’s progression in the Africa Cup of Nations, but Samir Nasri could return to the bench from a calf injury and the Chilean has backed his team to once again shine in the former Barcelona man’s absence.
Pellegrini said: “He [Toure] is an important player but we qualified against Roma and beat Bayern without him. Teams don’t depend on one player.”
Mourinho has further concerns in his defence with Filipe Luis (calf) and match-winner Branislav Ivanovic (foot) also sustaining injuries in midweek.