LONDON. — Chelsea face the prospect of having veteran Didier Drogba as their only fit striker for their visit to Manchester United on Sunday in what is usually one of the stand out matches of the English Premier League soccer season.
Jose Mourinho’s league leaders will definitely be without their nine-goal top scorer Diego Costa, who has a hamstring problem.
Frenchman Loic Remy is also a doubt after injuring himself while scoring Chelsea’s opening goal in their club record 6-0 Champions League victory over Maribor on Tuesday.
Drogba (36) came off the bench after 16 minutes to replace Remy and scored from the penalty spot for his first goal since returning to the club following a two-year spell away.
He is Chelsea’s only fully fit regular first team striker, but Mourinho could include 17-year-old Dominic Solanke in the squad for the visit to Old Trafford, after the teenager came on as a late substitute to make his senior debut against Maribor.
“We know Solanke’s talent is there, but he is in the phase of being far from (complete),” Mourinho told reporters on Tuesday before adding, “I am on a day off tomorrow, I don’t want to talk about injuries, I don’t want to hear from the doctor.”
Chelsea will be seeking to extend their unbeaten run from the start of the season to 13 matches and seven straight wins in all competitions against a Manchester United side that are sixth in the table after an indifferent start under new coach Louis van Gaal.
They avoided defeat at West Bromwich Albion on Monday when Daley Blind scored in the 87th minute of a superb game at The Hawthorns to salvage a 2-2 draw.
United, however, also have a problem in attack with captain Wayne Rooney suspended, following his sending-off against West Ham United on September 27.
Yet United defender Luke Shaw cannot wait to face the London side.
“I think you can safely say this is one of the biggest games in world football. I really hope I am part of it, I want to show people what I can do in games like this.”
Whatever the outcome Chelsea will stay top of the pile as they are five points clear of champions Manchester City with the first quarter of the season nearly completed.
Chelsea have 22 points after winning seven and drawing one of their opening eight games, with City in second place followed by the unlikely pair of Southampton on 16 points and West Ham fourth on 13.
City travel to West Ham after a miserable couple of days in a bleak and cold Moscow, where the confidence they have shown in the Premier League disappeared as they flopped once more in Europe.
City, who beat Tottenham Hotspur 4-1 last Saturday, allowed a 2-0 lead to slip against CSKA Moscow, who came back to draw 2-2 and leave City’s progress to the knock-out rounds of the Champions League in the balance.
They are also likely to have a tougher match against an improved West Ham side than the four games they played against Sam Allardyce’s team last season.
City won home and away in the Premier League and both legs of their Capital One (League) Cup semi-final, scoring 14 goals and conceding one.
West Ham have improved since then and celebrated Allardyce’s 60th birthday last week with a 3-1 win at Burnley to rise to fourth, their highest position since returning to the Premier League in 2012.
Southampton are also in unfamiliar territory in third spot after their top flight club record 8-0 win over Sunderland at St Mary’s last weekend. They are at home again to mid-table Stoke City on Saturday.
Although another thumping success is unlikely, they look good value to chalk up their fourth home win out of five against a Stoke side managed by Mark Hughes, who spent two years as a player with Southampton between 1998 and 2000.
Liverpool, who rode their luck to win 3-2 at bottom-placed Queens Park Rangers on Sunday, before being taught a harsh lesson in a 3-0 defeat at home to Real Madrid in the Champions League in midweek, face Hull City at Anfield tomorrow. — Soccernet