Chelsea striker Salomon Kalou admits it will be a massive blow to lose midfielder Michael Essien for three games following his red card against Fulham last night.
Essien, who headed the matchwinner on the half-hour to give Chelsea a 1-0 win, was dismissed by referee Martin Atkinson in the final minute of injury time for a two-footed lunge on Fulham striker Clint Dempsey.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti maintains that Essien's tackle was not dangerous and the club are currently considering whether to appeal against the dismissal.
Essien is scheduled to miss the games against Sunderland, Birmingham and Newcastle although Ancelotti is optimistic that fit again England midfielder Frank Lampard will be ready to replace him.
But Essien received instant backing from team-mate Kalou, who believes the midfielder's all-action style of play sometimes counts against him.
"I don't think it was intentional because he is not the kind of player to do that," declared Kalou. "He's maybe hard sometimes but it's his game.
"He's very strong with the ball and sometimes it may look very aggressive. It will be a blow to lose him for three games. He played well against Fulham and brings a lot of quality to the team."
Essien's red card took the gloss off a fine win for the Blues. The victory, achieved without injured defender Alex and striker Nicolas Anelka, put them four points clear at the top after Manchester United were held to a goalless draw at Eastlands.
"It was good to get the confidence back," added Kalou. "It was a tough game against Liverpool and it was very important to bounce back against Fulham.
"We won the Barclays Premier League last season and every team tries to beat us. It's nice to have that gap but four points is nothing.
"We have to keep working hard and focus on ourselves. We must play our game and not focus too much on the gap over the other teams because we know how it can go in the League. If we lose one game, Manchester United can be close again."
Malaria-stricken striker Didier Drogba will also be available for the Sunderland game after coming through the win over their west London rivals without any ill effects.
Drogba has been suffering with the disease for the last month but, apart from showing a little tiredness late in the game, the Ivory Coast striker still gave the Fulham defence much to think about.
Drogba was on the floor injured in the penalty area when Essien headed the winning goal and has often been criticised in the past for falling down too easily.
However, Kalou added: "Didier is one of the toughest players I know. It's been hard for him.
"It's not easy when you're not 100 per cent and you have to go out on the pitch. Didier played at the World Cup with a broken arm so I'm used to his strength.
"It's a tough League and sometimes you have to look to protect yourself. There are some moments where you have to go down. Sometimes people look at in a different way, but as a striker you can get a kick. Didier is a player that we need in this team."
Fulham defender Aaron Hughes felt the Cottagers were unlucky not to come away from Stamford Bridge with some reward following a spirited second-half performance.
"We stuck to our task against Chelsea and we feel a little bit unlucky not to be leaving without anything to show for it, said Hughes.
"We tried to go out and play our game and make it as difficult as possible, but they were unstoppable.
"It would be nice to win on Saturday against Newcastle but we know they're on a high after winning three on the bounce. They've been doing really well and causing teams a lot of problems whilst working very hard and grinding out good results."
Hughes was also full of praise for England Under-21 left-back Matthew Briggs. He made his first start for Fulham and impressed on his full debut.
"We see him everyday in training so we know he's got a lot of potential," added Hughes. "He's a big, strong player who's really comfortable on the ball and that's why the manager had no problem putting him in a game like this.
"He showed everybody exactly why the manager showed faith in him against Chelsea. He's got a good head on his shoulders. He works hard and over time he's only going to get better and that's good for us."Reuse content