Drogba relief for Chelsea

Chelsea still keen to sign new striker despite good news on Ivorian's injury
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The Independent Football

Chelsea were breathing a huge sigh of relief last night after it was confirmed that, contrary to an initial assessment, Didier Drogba will not require surgery following the injuries to his right knee and ankle suffered in the Champions League on Wednesday evening.

However the damage inflicted on the 30-year-old has concentrated minds at the club who are already searching for a top-class striker to add to their squad in the January transfer window. Chelsea, and more specifically their manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, realise that Drogba may not be able to lead the attack this season and they need reinforcements.

The Ivorian underwent MRI scans yesterday afternoon and has suffered "two forceful rotations" in his knee and ankle. The injuries will be examined over the next two to three days before Chelsea are able to estimate how long he will be out for although the diagnosis appears to be weeks – six is the earliest estimate – rather than months.

Drogba fell awkwardly after being challenged in the second-half of Chelsea's tie away to the Romanian club CFR Cluj and was stretchered off immediately. He was taken to hospitals for X-rays to check whether he had suffered any bone fractures after concerns that he had broken his right ankle as well as suffering medial ligament damage. Drogba, who was consoled by team-mate Salomon Kalou, had his leg put in a brace and travelled to the airport for Chelsea's flight back to Gatwick Airport in a car as he could not be lifted into the team bus.

There are now eight Chelsea players on the injured list and although four of those – John Terry, Alex, Ashley Cole and Joe Cole – are expected to be fit for Sunday's Premier League meeting at home to Aston Villa, Luiz Felipe Scolari's squad is severely stretched. His attacking options, in particular, are limited which brings into even sharper focus the failure to sign Robinho in the summer, with Chelsea refusing to meet the £32.5m asking price set by Real Madrid for the Brazilian striker which was eventually paid by Manchester City.

Chelsea are already on the look-out for a striker with the suspicion that Scolari does not have complete faith in the abilities of Nicolas Anelka – his only available, fit striker – to lead to the line while Drogba's age and continuing injury problems mean that he cannot be relied upon either. Drogba's latest injury sharpens the focus of that search.

Eligibility to play in the Champions League will be a factor for any recruit. However ambitious bids for either Valencia's David Villa – despite the Spanish international signing a new contract in the summer – or Atletico Madrid's Sergio Aguero – who, like Villa, has indicated he does not want to move to England – cannot be dismissed.

The game against Cluj was only Drogba's third start of the season with Scolari having expressed concern that it may take him some time to regain his form and fitness after being out over the summer with further knee problems.

Chelsea are already missing Ricardo Carvalho, who has also suffered a knee ligament tear and should be back by the end of October, Deco, who has a tear in a thigh muscle and is expected to be back in just over two weeks and long-term casualty Michael Essien who has damaged cruciate knee ligaments and will not return before March next year.

In addition Scolari has, as promised, conducted a major clear-out of his squad as he reduced the numbers over the summer. The departures include Steve Sidwell, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Tal Ben Haim and Claude Makelele while two players who had already left, Khalid Boulahrouz and Hernan Crespo, permanently severed their links. Three strikers also went – Claudio Pizarro, Ben Sahar and Andrei Shevchenko – and while all three are effectively only on loan it's highly unlikely they will return even in the short-term.

Chelsea players have expressed concern about the injury crisis with midfielder Frank Lampard admitting that the squad is a "bit thin on the ground" which will make it hard to continue challenging on all fronts. "Nicolas is a top-class striker," he said. "And we also have Salomon [Kalou] and young Franco di Santo [19-year-old Argentinian]. The experience is not really there, but I believe the quality is."

Lampard added of Drogba: "He's a massive player, he has been out for a few months over the summer, it was great to get him back and now we might lose him again for a while. We certainly can't afford any more injuries to this team in certain areas but Joe Cole will be fit at the weekend, Deco soon. We have a good squad of players, we have cover."

The state of the pitch at the home of the Romanian champions was also criticized with the hard surface heavily sanded, which aggravated Terry's long-term back problems while Alex suffered a buttock strain. The goalless draw, however, leaves Chelsea at the head of Group A, although only on goal difference, with a double-header against Roma to come.

Michael Ballack admitted conditions in Cluj were not ideal and said of the injury crisis: "We're unlucky. Now, especially with the strikers, we have just Nico. It meant I had to play upfront for a while. It's not easy at the moment but we have a strong squad and I hope we have enough. It looks like players have problems for Sunday but I hope we are able to get a strong team out."

Scolari's puzzle: Forward shortage leaves Brazilian with problem to solve

* Luiz Felipe Scolari's favoured formation is 4-1-4-1 with a lone striker. As Nicolas Anelka is fit he would be the point of the attack but there is pressure on him to perform and remain injury-free.

* Scolari could vary it by pushing Michael Ballack, Salomon Kalou or even Joe Cole,further forward and play 4-4-1-1.

* Chelsea have a lot of faith in Franco Di Santo who was a substitute against CFR Cluj. This could allow a 4-4-2 variation. However the Argentine is just 19.

* Scolari could revert to the favoured formation of Jose Mourinho - 4-3-3 - with two from three - Kalou, Joe Cole and Florent Malouda - either side of Anelka.

On the sidelines

Didier Drogba Knee and ankle; Sustained v CFR Cluj (a), 1 October; Expected return, possibly v Newcastle (h), 22 November.

Ashley Cole Lower back; Sustained v Man Utd (h), 21 Sept; Expected return v Aston Villa (h), Sunday.

Ricardo Carvalho Knee; Sustained v Man Utd (h), 21 Sept; Expected return v Liverpool (h), 26 October.

Joe Cole Hip; Sustained In training last week; Expected return v Middlesbrough (a), 18 October.

Michael Essien Knee ligaments; Sustained For Ghana v Libya (a), 5 September; Expected return March.

Deco Thigh; Sustained v Man Utd (h), 21 Sept; Expected return v Middlesbrough (a), 18 October.

Group A

Results: Chelsea 4 Bordeaux 0; Roma 1 CFR Cluj 2; CFR Cluj 0 Chelsea 0; Bordeaux 1 Roma 3.

Chelsea's remaining group fixtures: 22 Oct: Roma (h); 4 Nov: Roma (a); 26 Nov: Bordeaux (a); 9 Dec: CFR Cluj (h).

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