Christmas football: injury-free Chelsea have a big advantage
With a full squad to choose from the Blues are in pole position ahead of the hectic festive programme
Injuries could play a decisive factor as the Premier League gears up for its most hectic time of the year with three matches in seven days. There's a full programme on Boxing Day, then again on 28 December and the players won't be staying up late on New Year's Eve as there's another packed programme to kick off 2015.
While league leaders Chelsea have few injury concerns to speak of (save for the ankle injury sustained by Eden Hazard on Monday night which may force him out of Friday's match vs West Ham), the same can't be said of their big rivals. Arsenal's travails in the treatment room have been well-documented but the two Manchester clubs are also struggling to field full-strength teams.
Manchester City, three points behind Chelsea, will be without strikers Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko until the end of next month, but manager Manuel Pellegrini is hopeful that Stevan Jovetic and Vincent Kompany will feature at some point over the Christmas period, but it's unlikely either will be seen on Friday when City host West Bromwich Albion. "I am not a doctor so it is difficult for me to know exactly," said Pellegrini when asked about the return of Jovetic and Kompany, though he did hazard a guess it would be "the end of this week or next week".
Pellegrini's anxieties in the injury department are nothing compared to Louis van Gaal's, who's seen 40 injuries among his squad in the five months since he became manager of Manchester United. According to BBC Sport Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw, Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera will all be absent when the Red Devils clash with Newcastle United at Old Trafford on Boxing Day. "The problem is I have a lot of injured players, which is the problem of these matches in the coming weeks," admitted Van Gaal. Confirming that Shaw, Herrera and Fellaini are all sidelined until further notice, Van Gaal sounded more optimistic about Chris Smalling, telling reporters the England defender will undergo a fitness test later today.
Van Gaal was also asked about the comments of Alex Ferguson earlier this week. The legendary United manager, who stepped down at the end of the 2012-13 season, praised the Dutchman – calling him a "great coach" - and his words clearly meant a lot to Van Gaal. "He showed a lot of confidence and belief in me and that I need as a coach," he said. "As manager of Manchester United, you need belief and support of managers such as Sir Alex. But it is also a pressure because he believes in you and it gives you that pressure that you have to get results."