Stars missing from clash of top two
CHELSEA v MAN CITY
(Sunday, 1.30am, Singtel TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
Premiership clashes don't come bigger than a Chelsea-Manchester City encounter these days.
But not all the stars will be coming out to play at Stamford Bridge on Sunday morning (Singapore time).
Up to five top guns from both teams will play no part in the top-of-the-table clash due to injuries, international duties and suspension.
The immense depth of their squads will cushion the impact slightly but, when it's players of such high calibre, the brunt of their absence will still be keenly felt.
Chelsea appear to be the harder hit of the two teams.
While City must do battle without Yaya Toure, Wilfried Bony and Samir Nasri, Chelsea are expected to be without their Premiership top scorer Diego Costa and top assist-maker Cesc Fabregas.
Chelsea had barely finished celebrating their qualification for the League Cup final at the expense of Liverpool, when the price of Tuesday's victory began to surface.
Costa's stamp on Emre Can might have escaped the attention of the referee during the second leg of their semi-final clash, but the authorities have charged him with violent conduct after the game based on video replays.
The Brazil-born Spaniard has until this morning (Singapore time) to respond to the charge, but he is unlikely to escape a three-game suspension.
Jose Mourinho cannot afford to do without Costa and Fabregas for their biggest match of the season.
Despite his robust and sometimes over-the-top playing style, Costa has undoubtedly been one of the best players of this campaign.
In 19 league matches, the striker has plundered 17 goals from a mere total of 61 shots to underline his excellent finishing ability.
By comparison, City's Sergio Aguero, second on the top scorers' list, scored his 14 goals from 79 efforts.
In the same game against Liverpool, Fabregas damaged his hamstring and came off the pitch early in the second half.
Like Costa, the Spaniard also wasted no time in firing away in his first season at Stamford Bridge.
His vision and passing skills have seen him run away with the lead in the assists chart.
Fabregas helped set up 15 goals for his teammates, almost double those of runners-up Leighton Baines (Everton) and Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea), who have eight assists each.
Mourinho is expected to turn to veteran Didier Drogba as Costa's replacement, but the Ivorian is past his prime.
Filling Fabregas' spot will be a huge task too.
But, considering Chelsea's five-point lead over City, Mourinho has the option of playing for a draw.
So, don't be surprised if he throws in another defensive midfielder.
Meanwhile, City have problems of their own.
Manuel Pellegrini must have greeted news of Ivory Coast's progress to the quarter-finals of the African Nations Cup with a palm in his face.
With midfielder Toure and new signing Bony representing the Elephants, it means City must make do without the duo until Ivory Coast get eliminated or the tournament ends, whichever comes earlier.
To make matters worse, attacking midfielder Nasri is nursing a groin injury and is not expected to be back until the middle of next month.
But you would expect Pellegrini to breathe a little easier than Mourinho.
With the exception of Toure, City can cope without new boy Bony and Nasri.
But the same cannot be said of the Blues, whose attacking prowess is significantly weakened by the absence of Fabregas and Costa, if he gets suspended.
Is this City's best chance to deal Chelsea a significant blow in the title race? You bet.
When you play with this guy, you have to give everything. You can see in every action and for every ball, he gives his life.
— Chelsea star Eden Hazard, on Diego Costa
WHO CHELSEA WILL MISS
- Diego Costa
Shots Per Game: 3.2
Pass Success Rate: 78.6%
- Cesc Fabregas
Shots Per Game: 1.4
Pass Success Rate: 86.8.%
WHO MAN CITY WILL MISS
- Yaya Toure
Shots Per Game: 3.3
Pass Success Rate: 89.8%
- Samir Nasri
Shots Per Game: 1.5
Pass Success Rate: 90.3%
- Wilfried Bony (For Swansea)
Shots Per Game: 3.3
Pass Success Rate: 77.5%