MANCHESTER, England (AP) - John Terry ended last season as still the best center back in the English Premier League.
Three games into the new campaign, the Chelsea captain’s stock has fallen to such an extent that critics are questioning how much longer he can cut it at this level.
The 34-year-old Terry has endured a miserable start to Chelsea’s title defense: Substituted at halftime against Manchester City. Sent off against West Bromwich Albion. Now suspended for the visit of Crystal Palace on Saturday.
It will be the first time in 17 months that Terry has missed a meaningful Premier League game - he played every minute last season - and leaves Chelsea without any of the so-called “old guard” that has been the backbone of the club’s success for the past decade.
Central midfielder Frank Lampard left at the end of the 2012-13 season, center forward Didier Drogba’s second spell at Chelsea ended in May, and Petr Cech was sold to Arsenal in the offseason. Terry is the last remaining link to the past in a new-look Chelsea team under Jose Mourinho, but his days could be numbered.
It’s not just Terry’s form that is putting his place under scrutiny. He is 35 in December so age is not on his side, and Chelsea’s pursuit of Everton center back John Stones signals that Mourinho is looking to the future. Chelsea has reportedly had three offers for Stones rejected, and is weighing up a fourth potentially worth 40 million pounds ($62 million).
Terry still has much to offer Chelsea and could have two or three more years at Stamford Bridge. But his role could be changing, and good performances by Gary Cahill and Kurt Zouma - the likely center-back pairing against Palace - will give Mourinho some thinking to do over the international break.
By then, Stones may be a Chelsea player, too. He has already put in a transfer request, which was rejected by Everton on Thursday.
Chelsea has had as uncomfortable a start to the season as Terry, with four points from a possible nine leaving the team already five behind Man City. Palace has won two of its opening three games and is a dangerous team away from home with its pace on the counterattack.
Here are more things to know about the fourth round in the Premier League:
Wayne Rooney’s 10-game scoring drought for Manchester United ended with a hat trick against Bruges in a Champions League qualifying match on Wednesday, but he’ll need to start netting in the Premier League to get the critics completely off his back.
Rooney has been part of an underperforming United attack that has struggled to create chances, let alone score goals in the league this season. The team has scored two goals in three games, one of them being an own goal.
United visits Swansea on Sunday for a match between two unbeaten teams. Swansea took six points off United last season.
RECORD IN SIGHT
Manchester City will break its century-long record for successive top-flight wins if it beats Watford at Etihad Stadium.
City is the only team with a 100 percent start to the season after beating Everton 2-0 on Sunday. That was City’s ninth straight win, matching the club record that has lasted since 1912.
Mario Balotelli completed his season-long loan move to AC Milan from Liverpool on Thursday. It’s unlikely he’ll be missed at Anfield.
In summer signing Christian Benteke, Liverpool has a much more physical and threatening striker than it had last season when Balotelli and Rickie Lambert failed to shine and Daniel Sturridge was mostly injured.
Liverpool, which hosts West Ham on Saturday, has started the season with two wins and an impressive display in a 0-0 draw at Arsenal on Monday.
Leicester has made the most surprising start to the new campaign, with seven points from a possible nine leaving Claudio Ranieri’s side in second place on goal difference ahead of Liverpool and United.
Leicester visits Bournemouth on Saturday, when it’s also: Newcastle vs. Arsenal; Aston Villa vs. Sunderland; Stoke vs. West Brom; and Tottenham vs. Everton.
Sunday’s other game is Southampton at home to Norwich.
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