Despite a European Cup final being in sight, the manoeuvring over the future make-up of Chelsea's squad has begun in earnest. Comments made by Zlatan Ibrahimovic to a Swedish television station that it may be time for him to quit Italy and ply his trade "in Spain or England" will not have gone unnoticed. The Internazionale striker has long been coveted at Stamford Bridge and, with Didier Drogba set to leave this summer and the Milanese club a likely destination, a deal may be struck for the players to move in the opposite direction.
Such transfers, although appearing neat, are notoriously difficult to pull off, however, not least because of the scale of contract that each player currently has and their individual demands. Inter are keen to tie down Ibrahimovic – reputed to have been offered £8m a season – beyond the two years that his present deal has left to run, but the 26-year-old has long been on the Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich's wishlist. A tentative inquiry was made in January when Chelsea also asked about the availability of the Brazilian right-back Maicon.
Whether Ibrahimovic can be landed is questionable and it may be, as has been claimed in the Italian media, that Chelsea are now more interested in Mario Balotelli, who has recently replaced Ibrahimovic in the Inter line-up due to the Swede's recurring knee problems. Balotelli is only 17 and is regarded as one of Serie A's most exciting talents. Born in Palermo of Ghanaian parentage, he was adopted by an Italian family and is thought to have been watched by Chelsea on a number of occasions.
What is beyond dispute is that there will be a major overhaul of the Chelsea squad in the summer. Drogba will be the most high-profile departure, probably along with Frank Lampard, but Florent Malouda, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Talal Ben Haim, Claudio Pizarro, Carlo Cudicini and Steve Sidwell are also possible departures. Chelsea would also love to see Andrei Shevchenko go but whether or not any club – and Milan are the only possible candidates – are prepared to take up his contract is questionable.
There is, of course, likely to be a spending spree in return. Whether or not Avram Grant remains as manager –and the signs still remain that he will go – Abramovich is committed to an overhaul and signing more creative, exciting players for a squad that was functional but unspectacular under Grant's predecessor, Jose Mourinho.
In the wake of the 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final at Liverpool on Tuesday, Drogba said he expected Chelsea to be "in a position where we can control the game at home". The Ivorian, a disappointment on the night, added: "They [Liverpool] will come and give everything like we did last year and three years ago and that's good because it will give us some space and when we have space it will be good for us."
The goalkeeper Petr Cech, who made three outstanding saves, acknowledged that Chelsea had been fortunate to earn a draw, courtesy of John Arne Riise's injury-time own goal, but said the team deserved their luck. "Every occasion we had, every possibility to counter-attack, to push forward, we did so," he said. "For that effort, in the end, we were rewarded with a little bit of luck.
"I especially liked the fact that when we found ourselves 1-0 down we kept our chins up and just kept going. We played with good character and didn't lose our heads. We didn't panic at all, even when the time was going closer and closer to the end."
Heads, shoulders, knees and woes: Infamous own goals and their aftermath
John Arne Riise's header at Anfield on Tuesday night added to an infamous list of memorable own goals:
GARY MABBUTT (SPURS 2 Coventry 3, FA Cup final, 16 May 1987)
Stuck out a knee to loop ball over Ray Clemence and hand Sky Blues the Cup. Inspired the fanzine Gary Mabbutt's Knee.
DES WALKER (NOTTINGHAM FOREST 1 Spurs 2, FA Cup final, 8 May 1991)
Headed in a Paul Stewart flick-on to give Spurs extra-time win.
ANDRES ESCOBAR (COLOMBIA 1 US 2, World Cup, 22 June 1994)
Deflected a John Harkes cross into own net to send Colombia out of the World Cup. Shot dead on 2 July after returning to Medellin.
DELFI GELI (ALAVES 4 Liverpool 5, Uefa Cup final, 16 May 2001) Headed into own net after 117 minutes to hand Reds a memorable victory.
STEVEN GERRARD (LIVERPOOL 2 Chelsea 3, League Cup final, 28 Feb 2005) Headed equaliser back over Jerzy Dudek to equalise Riise's opener.
RIISE (Luton 1 LIVERPOOL 1, FA Cup third round, 6 Jan 2008)
Kicked the ball against his own arm and into the net to earn Luton replay at Anfield.
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