Chelsea will again be without Diego Costa when they take on Slovenian side NK Maribor in the Champions League on Tuesday. The striker, who has scored nine goals since arriving from Atletico Madrid in the summer, continues to be troubled by a hamstring problem. Having sat out a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace on Saturday, manager José Mourinho confirmed Costa will continue on the sidelines, along with Andre Schurrle, John Mikel Obi and Ramires. Mourinho’s frustration was reserved for Spain’s handling of Costa. Having apparently suffered a relapse of his hamstring difficulties during the international break in September, Mourinho was far from happy that Costa played both games for Spain during in the last two weeks and is now unable to play.
“It’s the same problem that he’s having but now an injury, not an almost injury,” Mourinho said, while adding that if he didn’t know whether Costa would be fit to take on Manchester United on Sunday. “It’s simple. He’s not training because he’s not in condition to do it. Tomorrow he cannot play.
“It’s up to [national teams] to take care of players, or be selfish. I don’t tell players not to go. I stimulate players to go — I like players to go. Sometimes you have national coaches and medical departments that want to establish a relationship and they are interested in the players, their physical condition, their habits.
“Some others they simply don’t care. This is not something we can resolve. I cannot ring the federations and say I want to speak to the coach, or the doctor wants to speak to their doctor. It’s something I cannot resolve.”
Costa’s absence means that, while Didier Drogba returned from injury off the bench at Selhurst Park, Loic Remy is again expected to lead the line. With Remy in the lineup, Chelsea maintained their five-point advantage at the top of the Premier League at the weekend. Now Mourinho will be eager to get qualification for the last 16 of the Champions League sewn up as soon as possible. A victory on Tuesday would take Chelsea onto seven points and in a strong position to qualify from Group G, after a win in Sporting Lisbon and a disappointing home draw with Schalke.
Having made it through the playoffs to qualify for the Champions League group phase for the first time in their history, Maribor also remain in the hunt for a most unlikely place in the knockout phase. The Slovenian champions for the last four seasons, Maribor began with a draw at home to Sporting Lisbon and then took an impressive point away from Schalke. On the domestic front, though, it has been a somewhat disappointing start to the campaign. After 13 matches, Maribor sit in third place in the Prva Liga, after three defeats. Ante Šimundža’s side will be visiting Britain for the second time when they head to Stamford Bridge, having beaten Scottish champions Celtic in the Champions League playoff round.
Prediction: The absence of Costa is significant, and was keenly felt when Chelsea carelessly allowed two points to slip against Schalke. But if Oscar, Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard can step up as they did on Saturday then it can be overcome, and should be against their next opponents. While Maribor kept a clean sheet at Celtic, their defense has not been exactly watertight this season. Providing Chelsea can stem the threat of the opposition’s counter-attacks, something they haven’t always done this campaign, then it should be a comfortable home win.
Chelsea 2-0 NK Maribor
Kickoff time: 2.45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox sports 2
Live stream: Fox Sports Go, Fox Soccer 2Go