Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson is adamant that Chelsea will lose to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday unless the in-form Diego Costa features.
The £32 million summer signing from Atletico Madrid has scored a remarkable seven goals in his first four Premier League games for the table-toppers, but was restricted to a substitute role for the midweek Champions League opener against Schalke due to on-going hamstring problems.
Merson believes the Spain international’s involvement on the weekend would see the Blues claim a 1-1 draw but, with Jose Mourinho admitting that his star striker remains a fitness doubt, the former Arsenal man predicts a 2-0 defeat if he fails to make it onto the pitch.
‘Mourinho has suggested Diego Costa won’t play and if that happens then Man City will win, it’s as simple as that,’ he wrote in his Sky Sports column.
‘He's not going to play him in the Capital One Cup so I’ve no doubt he will play in this one though. As for Man City, they didn’t have enough pace on the break against Bayern Munich and it was only a matter of time before they conceded to a top team.
‘I think City will get a result – but what the result is all depends on whether Costa plays or not.’
With Chelsea also shipping six league goals so far this season in uncharacteristic fashion, Merson stresses that Mourinho will have to alter his tactical approach when coming up against their first real test of the campaign in the title holders.
‘Chelsea need to change how they play if they want to get a result at Man City,’ he added. ‘If they go out and play Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas as the two central midfielders then they’ll get run ragged because Fabregas isn’t disciplined enough in a game like this.
‘Ramires or John Obi Mikel need to come in and sit with Matic and do a job or else City will cause havoc. I think Jose Mourinho will change things and won’t play like he did against Everton, Swansea and Schalke. As long as he tightens things up they can get a draw.'