Stoke City could be without a key first-team presence in Kurt Zouma for the majority of the festive period after the Chelsea loanee limped out of Tuesday night's (12 December) Premier League loss against Burnley.
Zouma retained his starting berth alongside captain Ryan Shawcross in a rejigged 4-4-2 formation at Turf Moor that saw manager Mark Hughes abandon his three-man backline, yet limped off to be replaced by Kevin Wimmer in the 66th minute after appearing to pull his right hamstring during a challenge.
The struggling Potters, who were confronted by frustrated fans at Stoke railway station after their harrowing 5-1 thrashing at Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday [9 December], eventually slipped to their fourth defeat in five matches courtesy of a late strike from Ashley Barnes that sent in-form Burnley into the top four.
Under-fire manager Mark Hughes lamented the untimely loss of Zouma, commenting that "if we'd have kept Ryan and Kurt they'd have dealt with that situation".
The top-flight's leakiest defence are already without the services of Bruno Martins Indi, who could be absent for up to two months with groin damage that saw him stretchered out of the 2-1 win over Swansea City on 2 December.
While he is hopeful that Zouma's problem will prove to be minor, Hughes is aware that it looks set to keep him sidelined for a couple of matches at least.
Stoke face three crucial contests against West Ham United, West Bromwich Albion and Huddersfield Town next before a meeting with Chelsea on 30 December, a game which their French centre-back will have to sit out anyway per the terms of his season-long loan agreement.
"Losing Kurt Zouma affected us," Hughes was quoted as saying by BBC Sport. "We think it's his hamstring. We're hoping it might just be a bit of cramp, but the likelihood is that he might miss a couple of games."
Stoke's initial meeting with Chelsea in September - an Alvaro Morata-inspired 4-0 drubbing at the bet365 Stadium - was the only competitive fixture that Zouma has missed since arriving in July after putting pen to paper on a mammoth new six-year contract in west London.
He had previously started all 18 of their domestic matches to date in 2017-18, subbed off just once with half an hour remaining in a Carabao Cup second-round stroll against League One Rochdale.
Zouma, who moved to Stamford Bridge from Saint-Etienne in a £12m ($16m) deal in January 2014 before being loaned back to the Ligue 1 outfit, featured 13 times across all competitions during Chelsea's title-winning campaign last term after recovering from cruciate knee ligament damage that kept him out for eight months.