With in-form Manchester United heading to Stamford Bridge in the Premier League on Sunday, the absence of beleaguered captain John Terry has come at just the wrong time for Chelsea.
Blues coach Andre Villas-Boas said Friday that Terry's absence is down to a knee injury and not the continued fallout from the racist abuse case that has cost the defender the England captaincy.
But with inconsistent Chelsea trying to hold onto a Champions League qualifying berth, Villas-Boas could do with Terry against a United side able to recall the attacking talent of Wayne Rooney, Nani, Ashley Young and Tom Cleverley, who are available after injury.
Gary Cahill could make his debut in place of Terry but Chelsea will also have to cope without suspended fullback Ashley Cole, knee injury victim Ramires and John Obi Mikel, who has a hamstring problem.
Villas-Boas is hoping midfielder Frank Lampard can return from the calf injury that has kept him out of the last two games.
United, which visits Stamford Bridge after winning three straight matches to move level with Manchester City at the top of the standings, can finally contemplate an improved injury list.
Manager Alex Ferguson has at times been without almost a full team of players but Rooney and Nani have been training for two days after recovering from injuries sustained in the Jan. 22 win at Arsenal. Young has been out since December and Cleverley has been out since October.
"We're a bit better in terms of injuries,'' Ferguson said. "We hope Wayne Rooney, Nani, Tom Cleverley and Ashley Young will all be in the squad. It's more likely Tom will play against Chelsea reserves on Monday, but he'll travel.''
Goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard is out of action for as long as six weeks because of an ankle injury, leaving David De Gea likely to start and Ben Amos set to fill in on the bench.
United - unlike regular top-four rivals Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool - has no worries over whether it will qualify for next season's Champions League.
The defending champion has won five of its last six meetings with Chelsea but the Blues won the other match in that sequence 2-1 in last season's corresponding fixture.
Third-place Tottenham is seven points ahead of Chelsea, which is hanging onto the fourth and final Champions League qualifying spot ahead of challenges from Newcastle, Liverpool and Arsenal.
Fifth-place Newcastle hosts Aston Villa in Sunday's other match.
Manchester City hosts Fulham in one of seven games Saturday, with Tottenham at Liverpool on Monday.
Manchester City will again be without striker Mario Balotelli because of suspension and Ivory Coast duo Kolo Toure and Yaya Toure because of their participation at the African Cup of Nations.
David Pizarro, signed on loan from Roma this week, is in contention to make his debut and defensive duo Vincent Kompany and Micah Richards should play despite minor fitness problems.
"We had this problem with some players away,'' City manager Roberto Mancini said. "We had this chance with David on loan from Roma and it was good for us because I know the player. I think that could be useful for us in the next four months.''
Louis Saha could be in for a hot reception at Anfield, having just left Everton in time to make his Tottenham debut against his old club's biggest rival.
With Jermain Defoe, Rafael van der Vaart and Emmanuel Adebayor all in doubt for the match because of injury, the 33-year-old Saha is hoping he gets the chance to add to the single Premier League goal he scored for Everton this season.
"I see many opportunities with the midfielders, the wingers, and the way the team plays here, so I just can't wait to get started,'' Saha said. "It's a very attacking side and they always look for movement of the striker.''