|Under-fire captain John Terry, who was stripped of the England captaincy due to an impending racism trial on Friday, will miss Sunday's clash due to a knee injury [EPA]
With in-form Manchester United heading to Stamford Bridge in the English 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 European 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, who visit 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 January 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 - have no worries over whether they will qualify for next season's Champions League.
The defending champions have won five of their 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 are seven points ahead of Chelsea, who are hanging onto the fourth and final Champions League qualifying spot ahead of challenges from Newcastle, Liverpool and Arsenal.
Fifth-place Newcastle host Aston Villa in Sunday's other match.
Manchester City host 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.