Gianluca Vialli has warned his Chelsea team to clean up their act to avoid compromising their European Cup-Winners' Cup challenge when they take on Real Betis tonight.
Chelsea's record of 61 bookings in domestic football is one of the worst in the Premiership. Dennis Wise, their captain has already served two suspensions this season, and has been summoned by the Football Association to explain why he is the first player in the League to collect 11 yellow cards. Mark Hughes starts his second ban of the campaign after tomorrow night's game having been cautioned eight times.
Vialli, highly experienced in the cat and mouse manoeuvres of Continental club competition after winning all three major trophies during his time in Italy, has told his players to modify their combative approach against Betis or risk losing key personnel for the second leg of the quarter-final at Stamford Bridge in two weeks' time.
The player-manager may well stick with the ambitious, Juventus-style 4-3-3 system he introduced on taking over from Ruud Gullit three weeks ago. He said: "We must not be scared to play strongly but we must also play with cool heads. I know the Betis players. They are very good technically and they have all the tricks. I don't mean that they cheat but with a big crowd behind them lifting their spirits they know how to get the best from a home game.
"We must be very careful not to get bookings. There is another leg in which we can recover if we need to but we can't do it if we have too many players out of the game."
He thinks Chelsea can beat Betis so long as they cope with the different style and atmosphere they will face in Seville. "I have to be optimistic," he said.
Wise, booked in all his last four games, said: "Luca has stressed the importance of keeping out of trouble. But I'm looking forward to playing in Europe again. I think the referees have a better attitude to what is an honest challenge."
The Swedish referee Leif Sundell has already been replaced by a Bulgarian official for the match after Chelsea complained to Uefa, the game's governing body in Europe, about his fraternising with Betis officials at a recent Spanish League match.
In fact, Roberto Di Matteo is the only Chelsea player already with a yellow card in tonight's probable staring line-up. Vialli, who expects slight injury doubts over Graeme Le Saux (ankle) and Mark Hughes (calf) to clear in time for kick-off.