The league’s top scorer and City’s most dependable player will be missing from the season’s biggest fixture. So how will this affect the teams?
The most exciting clash of the weekend will see two of the most productive players in the Premier League sit out for different reasons. Billed by many as the potential title-decider, Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini have been left in a dilemma following the absence of Diego Costa and Yaya Toure from their respective sides. While Toure will be on international duty with Ivory Coast, Costa will be serving first of his three-game suspension following the stamp on Martin Skrtel in the Capital One Cup semi final.
While there is no denying the fact that the 22 players who will line up on Saturday evening are capable of coming up with match-winning performances, the absence of both Costa and Toure at this stage of the season could haunt the table-toppers. To put things into perspective, City this season have not won a game in the absence of Toure whereas a weakened Chelsea side will be on display, without the league’s top scorer in their ranks.
The recent few weeks for the defending champions haven’t been rosy to say the least. The last three games have seen Pellegrini’s men beaten twice at home and earn an away draw against Everton. While the Chilean was tactically outsmarted by Arsene Wenger in the league, the defeat to Middlesbrough in the FA Cup meant that the chances of winning silverware this season just got a lot more difficult. Already out of the League Cup, City now find themselves facing Barcelona in the Champions League and with five points behind Chelsea in the Premiership, a defeat could make the prospect of ending the season empty handed, a very realistic one.
The same cannot be said for Chelsea though. Despite being eliminated from the FA Cup in bizzare fashion, Mourinho’s men come into this game in pretty decent form that has seen them win four of their last six games, including the League Cup semi-final victory over Liverpool. However, Costa’s latest ban combined with the absences of Cesc Fabregas and Branisalv Ivanovic, both of whom are struggling with injury, leaves Mourinho in a big dilemma heading into the game.
Costa’s influence at Chelsea cannot be understated. The former Atletico Madrid striker has continued his impressive goal scoring form from Spain and has scored 17 goals so far for the Stamford Bridge team. At a time when the Blues needed an inspirational player up front following the disappointing performances of his predecessors, the Spaniard has managed to click instantly and has combined incredibly well with the creative quartet behind him.
It is not just the goals that Costa brings to the side, but it is his sheer passion on the pitch that has seen him earn countless plaudits. “I go into battle. You come with me,” were the quotes doing the rounds following Costa’s arrival at Stamford Bridge and although these might not be the words of the striker, they certainly define the sort of character he is.
Brutal, relentless, passionate and prolific are the sort of adjectives one would associate with the Brazilian-born Spaniard. He has continuously wrecked havoc in the opposition defense, be it with his positioning, skills or raw aggression. Costa is the kind of striker Mourinho needs in his side and is a sort of finisher the men behind him can count on. In his absence, Chelsea will have to rely on either Didier Drogba or Loic Remy to lead the attack.
A pleasing statistic going into this game for the Portuguese manager can be that his side have won 77% of the games without the former Atletico striker in the squad, compared to 62% with him. But against an opposition of Manchester City’s calibre, it is hard to place trust on two players who have not featured regularly this season.
While Drogba has proved to be an able deputy in the absence of Costa, it is hard to rely on a 36-year old to play with the same intensity as his teammates. Coming up against the likes of Vincent Kompany and Elaquim Mangala, two players who have continuously struggled against pacy strikers this season, Costa’s absence will be a major blow for Chelsea as neither Drogba nor Remy are capable of exploiting the opposition’s weakness.
The only advantage Mourinho will have going into this game over his opposite number is the fact that while Chelsea have coped well without Costa earlier in the season, the same cannot be said for Pellegrini.
City’s latest addition Frank Lampard has dominated the headlines going into this game but it’s fair to say that regardless of his goal scoring abilities, he and the Brazilian duo of Fernando and Fernandinho can hardly fill the void left by Toure. The Ivorian since his arrival has been the most dependable and consistent player for the Manchester club and in his absence, the Sky Blues have lacked a leader and enforcer in the middle of the park.
For all the millions the club has spent over the years, it seems they have hardly found a player capable of filling the gap left by Toure. While they have coped in the absence of Sergio Aguero, David Silva and even Vincent Kompany for that matter, City’s generals in the midfield are a major concern. The good news for City is the return of Samir Nasri, who could regian a starting spot for the crunch encounter. Arsenal found City’s weakness in central midfield and fully dominated it with Santi Cazorla perfect performance, so don’t be surprised if Oscar plays the anchorman this time around, for Chelsea.
Both Fernando and Fernandinho have often looked lost when the duo have been paired together, with them being clueless of their respective duties. With the defense not looking in the best shape as well, the Pellegrini-led team need someone capable of shielding the backline with the ideal candidate being at the opposite end of proceedings, in Nemanja Matic! But it is fair to say, Fernando has only been a shadow of the stoic Serbian.
While the idea to play Lampard against his former club from the start could be a mouthwatering one for Pellegrini psychologically, it could turn out to be a major risk as the former England midfielder has been overrun in midfield numerous times over the last few years.
The game holds importance in more than one way and Saturday evening could well decide the direction of the Premiership battle. But with both the sides missing their star names, it could well be the chance for one of the fringe players to step up and have their say.