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.
|Prolific Nadolo signs new Montpellier contract|
|Modric? For us, Messi is the best – Valverde|
|Murray makes winning start in Shenzhen|
|Mickelson would cherish first victory on European soil|
|Hodge hoping pressure proves too much for South Africa|
|Woodward in show of support for under-fire Mourinho|
|Mickelson jokes he wants ´a shot a side´ from Tiger in Thanksgiving showdown|
|Reed: Captain America is a villain in Europe|
|Duminy to captain Proteas as Elgar replaces injured Amla|
|No Tottenham timeline for Lloris, Vorm returns|
|Woods ready for ´awesome environment´ on Ryder Cup opening hole|
|Tony Bellew determined to prove doubters wrong against Oleksandr Usyk|
|Tuchel explains why he likes Neymar at number 10|
|Manchester United smash revenue record but profits down|
|Furyk downplays Ryder Cup pairings talk, says Tuesday is about individuals|
|Rejuvenated Tiger out to improve poor Ryder Cup record|
|Saunders fined £100,000 for ´sickening´ online video|
|Hazard can reach his full potential with Sarri´s Chelsea - Zola|
|Ryder Cup heading back in Europe´s direction, says Niall Horan|
|Wow! Klopp hails Sarri´s Chelsea transformation|
|Giovinazzi to partner Raikkonen at Sauber in 2019|
|Bjorn backs ´phenomenal´ Rahm to continue trend of Spanish success|
|Durant in no rush to decide Warriors future|
|Rossi to face anti-doping hearing|
|Mignolet to return for Liverpool against Chelsea|
|Premier League ´interesting´ for Germany boss Low|
|Wilder wins Twitter vote to be Joshua´s next opponent|
|BREAKING NEWS: Isco an El Derbi doubt due to appendicitis|
|Juventus won´t rest Ronaldo ahead of Napoli clash|
|Slater cleared to play in NRL Grand Final|
|Top seed Begu sent packing in Tashkent|
|This isn´t my last hurrah in Ryder Cup, insists Poulter|
|Barba back in NRL with North Queensland Cowboys|
|Arsenal wait on Mkhitaryan and Sokratis|
|All Blacks wary of Pumas pack ahead of Buenos Aires Test|
|Ryder Cup has special place in Pep Guardiola´s heart, says Fleetwood|
|Mbappe ready to take over from Messi and Ronaldo, says Trezeguet|
|Molinari: Ryder Cup pressure far outweighs any major|
|Koepka heads PGA Tour´s Player of the Year nominations|
|Lampard: Mourinho still a great manager|
|United States and Europe reveal Ryder Cup practice groupings|
|Bulldogs´ fine for ´Mad Monday´ antics halved|
|Bennett to leave Broncos after 2019 NRL campaign|
|American League postseason picture becomes clear|
|Steelers edge Buccaneers for first win|
|Gatland wants Webb available for World Cup|
|Modric: Ronaldo, Messi out of this world but my season deserved recognition|
|Love says Cavs ´will surprise a lot of people´|
|George believes Thunder can compete for championship this season|
|Messi is the greatest ever – Eto´o|
|Messi to miss Argentina´s upcoming friendlies|
|Dolphins say Hayes tore ACL attempting to avoid roughing-the-passer penalty|
|Modric deserved FIFA Best award – Ramos|
|Thibodeau open to potential Butler trade|
|Modric wanted Ronaldo, Messi at awards ceremony|
|Brewers´ Yelich active after elbow hit|
|Anthony on coming off Rockets´ bench: Whatever I have to do to help this team win|
|Raiders coach Gruden says Mack trade was hard on players|
|Bale lauds ´unbelievable´ Modric after FIFA Best triumph|
|Ronaldo, Messi lacked respect with FIFA Best awards snub - Capello|
|New Zealand the benchmark but England can win World Cup - Mitchell|
|FIFA Best Award a dream come true for Modric|
|Lakers a long way from Warriors, warns LeBron|
|Milner pokes fun at Salah´s Puskas Award win|
|Josh Rosen to replace Sam Bradford as Cardinals starting quarterback|
|Kaymer: Home-course advantage crucial to Europe hopes|
|Marta and Pedros win FIFA Best awards|
|I want to be in Toronto - Kawhi Leonard focused on Raptors, not future|
|Messi and Ronaldo lead FIFPro World XI as Salah and Neymar miss out|
|Knicks´ Kristaps Porzingis ´itchy´ to return but won´t commit to 2018-19 season|