Manuel Pellegrini has challenged his Manchester City players to show they can cope without Yaya Toure as the Premier League champions try to keep pace with leaders Chelsea.
Pellegrini’s second placed side are level on points with the Blues ahead of Saturday’s trip to face Everton, but they will be without the dynamic presence of Toure at Goodison Park.
Toure will be away on African Cup of Nations duty with Ivory Coast for several weeks, depriving City of their most influential midfielder at a crucial moment in the title race.
With Chelsea having squandered an eight-point lead over City, Pellegrini knows Jose Mourinho’s men are vulnerable but being without Toure is a blow to the Chilean’s hopes of overhauling the west Londoners.
“It is a very important player,” said Pellegrini. “We cannot say it doesn’t matter that Yaya is not here.
“The same thing happens without Edin Dzeko, Sergio Aguero, David Silva, all the players that for different reasons could not be involved in recent games.
“But we have a squad that must play and work in the way we normally do.”
Loic Remy insists Chelsea remain on course to make a clean sweep of all the major prizes despite their spluttering form over the festive period.
Mourinho’s side allowed City to draw level on points with them after a draw at Southampton and a 5-3 defeat at Tottenham.
A 3-0 victory over Watford last weekend secured their place in the FA Cup fourth round, but it took second-half substitutes Diego Costa and Willian to ignite a flat performance.
With critics suggesting Chelsea are beginning to lose momentum in their bid to win the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup, French striker Remy hit back ahead of the Blues’ home fixture against managerless Newcastle on Saturday.
“The mood is really positive. We are still focused on all the targets. Every team will be in trouble at some time and I hope ours is behind us now with the last two games,” Remy told Standard Sport.
“There is no problem inside the camp, the players are still happy at training. We have shown everyone that we can react after two bad results.
“Was our confidence badly affected by what happened at Tottenham? No. We are still top of the league.”
– Pardew back at Palace –
On Sunday, Manchester United host Southampton in a vital fixture in the fight to qualify for the Champions League via a top-four finish.
United are currently third, one point ahead of fourth placed Southampton and two ahead of fifth placed Tottenham, who travel to Crystal Palace on Saturday.
That London derby at Selhurst Park will mark new Palace manager Alan Pardew’s first home game since his surprise move from Newcastle.
Palace currently sit third from bottom and Pardew will be expected to repeat Tony Pulis’s success of last season when the former manager secured Palace’s top-flight status in the second half of the season.
Pardew has already overseen last weekend’s FA Cup victory over non-league Dover but he knows his main business begins against Mauricio Pochettino’s side.
“We have got a tough challenge. Our home form is not good so we need to try and turn our home situation into a positive for us,” Pardew said.
“In terms of the players, I think they need a lift. But there is a feeling among the players that they can do it and you need that belief to start building.”
Elsewhere, Liverpool visit Sunderland with the fall-out continuing after Steven Gerrard’s announcement that he will leave Anfield at the end of the season.
Gerrard’s claims that he would have stayed had he been offered a new deal last year sparked fresh talk of a rift with Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, who had already told the Reds captain he would start fewer games if he remained at the club in the twilight of his illustrious career.
But Rodgers attempted to quash the speculation as he said: “Everything has been said on that situation that needs to be said.
“The club has to keep moving forward to bring the best players we can to this wonderful football club.”
Fixtures (1500 GMT unless stated)
Burnley v QPR, Chelsea v Newcastle, Crystal Palace v Tottenham (1730 GMT) Everton v Manchester City, Leicester v Aston Villa, Sunderland v Liverpool (1245 GMT), Swansea v West Ham, West Brom v Hull
Arsenal v Stoke (1330 GMT), Manchester Utd v Southampton (1600 GMT)