Manchester City are adjusting to a significant blow against their Premier League title defence after confirmation Kevin De Bruyne will be sidelined for around three months with lateral knee ligament damage.
The Belgium midfielder, who was City's stand-out performer on the way to Premier League and EFL Cup glory last season, suffered the injury during a training session this week.
Pep Guardiola has an amply stocked squad from which to find solutions to this conundrum, although there is arguably no like-for-like replacement for De Bruyne's all-round midfield mastery.
Here we look at what fixtures City will have to tackle without their talisman and which rivals at home and abroad might be set to benefit from his absence.
Generous early season run
City already have the scalp of a top-six counterpart in the Premier League this term having breezed past Arsenal 2-0 on the opening weekend. The immediate run of fixtures to come appear straightforward on paper and take out a sizeable chunk of De Bruyne's absence.
Starting with Sunday's home game against Huddersfield Town, Guardiola's men face the promoted sides from this season and last season over a six-match period. Complacency should be guarded against, however. Huddersfield were one of only three teams to avoid defeat at the Etihad Stadium in the Premier League in 2017-18, while City needed penalties to overcome Wolves in the EFL Cup.
Champions League group stage
Whoever City face in the round-robin phase of Europe's elite club competition, each opponent will be buoyed by the prospect of not having to tackle De Bruyne. Game-changing goals against Sevilla, Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona and Shakhtar Donetsk feature among his body of work in a tournament his employers are yet to tame.
City have won 58.3 per cent of their Champions League games with De Bruyne since he joined from Wolfsburg in 2015. That figure drops to 16.7 per cent – one out of six – in the games he has missed. Guardiola must mastermind an improvement, with the first four group-stage matchdays now out of bounds.
A daunting Anfield task
Even with De Bruyne at their disposal, City generally struggled against Liverpool last season. After a 5-0 romp in the wake of a Sadio Mane red card at the Etihad, the champions lost the subsequent three encounters in the Premier League and a Champions League quarter-final.
This included 4-3 and 3-0 reverses at Anfield, where City have not won since 2003. Jurgen Klopp's side have been tipped by many to present the sternest test to Guardiola's ambition of becoming the first manager to retain England's top-flight crown since Alex Ferguson. The Catalan would have dearly loved to have De Bruyne around for a high-stakes showdown on October 7.
KDB— Benjamin Mendy (@benmendy23) August 17, 2018
Tottenham away (probably)
The second international break of De Bruyne's scheduled absence – a factor in City's favour – comes after the Liverpool game. They return at home to Burnley before taking on Tottenham. Mauricio Pochettino took four points off Guardiola during the latter's first season in England but City stormed to two impressive wins in 2017-18. De Bruyne scored a stunning solo goal in a 4-1 victory last December.
A trip to a top-four rival remains a significant moment in any title bid, although the October 28 clash is cloaked in uncertainty as Tottenham race to get their new stadium ready. The venue is presently listed as TBC on Spurs' website, with NFL taking place at their temporary home of Wembley on October 27.
Manchester derby return
Injury struck for De Bruyne on August 15 and the timeframe outlined by City for his recovery means attention is quickly drawn to the first Manchester derby of the season on November 11. City v United; Guardiola v Mourinho – it would be the perfect time to reintroduce the playmaker's star quality.
|We tried to hit a home run and it didn´t work out - D´Antoni explains Carmelo exit|
|West Ham´s Zabaleta backs Premier League´s VAR introduction|
|Southgate eyes winning end to England´s ´brilliant year´|
|Patient Zverev seizes opportunity to make amends at ATP Finals|
|Rodgers: Packers still believe they can make playoffs|
|Mahomes hoping to ketchup to Heinz´s touchdown target|
|Ranieri tells Fulham fans not to expect repeat of Leicester ´fairytale´|
|Brown to leave role as RFU chief executive|
|Croatia star Rakitic ruled out of England clash|
|Capital gains for Zverev as he secures last-four spot in London|
|Sancho rise continues with Player of the Month award|
|Jones-Buchanan, Ablett and Briscoe sign new Rhinos deals|
|Root leads from the front as aggressive England assume control|
|Croatia´s Lovren antagonises Ramos and ´rude´ Spain|
|Rakitic has ´enormous respect´ for England ahead of Nations League decider|
|Ireland make flanker switch with Leavy out of All Blacks clash|
|Pakistan rip through Black Caps in Abu Dhabi|
|WATCH: Barcelona mark 15-year anniversary of Messi´s first match|
|Sterling, that you? - Walker uses falling fan to poke fun at England team-mate|
|Fleetwood applies pressure on Molinari, Wallace leads in Dubai|
|Don´t talk to me about VAR – Rakitic not over World Cup final loss|
|Van Dijk leadership essential for Liverpool – Wijnaldum|
|Dalic: Croatia´s bench was ready to stop Spain!|
|Sublime Root century gives England imposing lead|
|Vinicius appreciates Solari influence at Real Madrid|
|Havertz would suit Bayern Munich – Kimmich|
|Wilder: Roach recruitment a sign of Fury nerves|
|Ranieri targets defensive improvements at failing Fulham|
|PSG close investigation into player recruitment practices after finding no discrimination|
|Mayweather: Nasukawa exhibition back on|
|Witsel: Joining Borussia Dortmund my best career decision|
|Ballon d´Or win would not change Modric´s ´best year´|
|Ireland v New Zealand: Opta stats behind the meeting of the world´s top two|
|The Breakdown: A statistical look at Saturday´s rugby internationals|
|Batshuayi dismisses reports of Valencia departure|
|Brazil must make Copa America final – Tite|
|Rockets rout Warriors as Green goes scoreless|
|Seahawks rally past Packers|
|Lakers G Rondo to miss 4-5 weeks|
|Durant is done with questions about Green|
|Smith, Warner set to return to IPL in 2019|
|No rivalry between Mbappe and Griezmann – Deschamps|
|Neymar: Emery will bring success to Arsenal|
|Jedvaj backs Croatia to deliver against England|
|Howell grabs first-round lead at Sea Island|
|Rooney backing Kane to break England record|
|Betts named American League MVP|
|Republic of Ireland must improve, says under-pressure O´Neill|
|Injured Sergio Ramos to leave Spain squad|
|Yelich named National League MVP|
|Low praises ´beautiful goals´ from Sane and Gnabry|
|Belgium boss Martinez pleased with patient Batshuayi|
|Wilson and Sancho pay tribute to England ´legend´ Rooney|
|Rooney gave England squad a lesson in humility - Southgate|
|This Week in U.S. Sports: LeBron passes Chamberlain, Williamson looking like he is next|
|We still have a chance - Luis Enrique not giving up hope after Spain defeat|
|Rockets ´parting ways´ with Anthony|
|Rooney became ´embarrassed´ at Manchester United|
|Federer: ´Easier´ to play when I´m up against it|
|Rooney convinced England are in safe hands with Southgate|
|Black Caps skipper Williamson confident over first Test availability|
|Federer cruises into last four of ATP Finals for 15th time|
|Republic of Ireland 0 Northern Ireland 0: Randolph saves light up bore draw|
|England 3 United States 0: Experimental side impresses on Rooney farewell|
|Croatia 3 Spain 2: Jedvaj keeps World Cup finalists in contention|
|Belgium 2 Iceland 0: Batshuayi rekindles Hazard flame with match-winning brace|
|Germany 3 Russia 0: Sane on target as Low´s men stroll|
|´Fancy taking a look at Brexit?´ - Southampton credit Austin with VAR breakthrough|
|Green: Altercation with Durant will make Warriors stronger|
|Juventus star Dybala dismisses Manchester United links|