Manchester United have suffered a massive blow ahead of Saturday’s top-of-the-table Premier League clash against Chelsea, with the news that Michael Carrick, Daley Blind, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo will all miss out through injury. Carrick, Blind and Jones have been ever-presents as United have impressively won their last four games to move up to third place in the standings. All four suffered problems in last Sunday’s 4-2 derby win over Manchester City, and it leaves manager Louis van Gaal with particular problems in the center of defense and midfield.

“We had high hopes that we would recover two of the four, but it’s not like that, so Carrick and Rojo are out and also Blind and Jones,” Van Gaal said in his pre-match press conference. “And that’s the worst scenario because Rojo and Jones could play at the left central defender’s position, Evans is suspended so I don’t have many choices. Blind and Carrick could play in the holding midfield position and I don’t have another option, or I have to play Wayne Rooney again in that position. So I have a big puzzle for tomorrow.”

There is some positive news, with Van Gaal describing Luke Shaw as “fit enough” after missing the last five weeks through injury. Robin van Persie is also back in full training, having been absent for the last two months, however Van Gaal was less enthusiastic about his chances of featuring.

The absentees will be a major blow to United, after Van Gaal struck upon a formula that has produced a massive upturn in performances and big wins over Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City to all but guarantee a Champions League spot. They are still in the running to achieve even more than that, although they remain eight points behind leaders Chelsea having played a game more than their next opponents. While Chelsea also have to visit second-place Arsenal next weekend, Van Gaal described his team’s prospects of lifting the title as “possible, but not logical.”

While Chelsea haven’t been blowing away the opposition as they did in the early part of the season, they have done enough to keep the chasing pack at bay. Jose Mourinho’s side have won their last three matches, all by a single goal and have not been beaten in the Premier League since New Year’s Day. Regardless of the situation in the table, Mourinho explained that going up against Manchester United is always a special occasion.

“To play Manchester United is to play against one of the biggest clubs in the world and is to play against one of the best teams in the Premier League and I think this is what everybody wants,” he said ahead of the match. “This week I was not worried about motivating players, or demand players to be focused on the game and the opponent because there is no need. It’s an easy job.

“It’s a big match. You have to play against everyone home and away. Our fight is always to have the same motivation and ambition, no matter what opponent. But the reality is that these matches are the easy ones -- the ones where every player is desperate to play. They are the matches everybody likes.”

Although not to the same degree of their opponents, Chelsea also have their injury problems coming into the clash at Stamford Bridge. Diego Costa continues to miss out with a hamstring injury, although Mourinho suggested the striker could return earlier than his initial forecast that he would only feature in the final four games of the season. And Mourinho stated that striker Loic Remy had a better than 50-50 chance of featuring after he also missed last week’s 1-0 win over Queens Park Rangers.

Kickoff time: 12:30 p.m. EDT

TV channel: NBC

Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra