Jose Mourinho, the Internazionale manager, said yesterday he hopes Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech's recovery from his calf injury is slow enough to ensure he misses the return leg of their Champions League last 16 tie on 16 March.
Cech was taken off on a stretcher at San Siro on Wednesday night during Chelsea's 2-1 defeat to Mourinho's Inter and yesterday underwent a scan to determine the degree of muscle damage. The initial prognosis was that Cech would be highly unlikely to be able to come back before the return leg at Stamford Bridge in less than three weeks' time.
Henrique Hilario replaced Cech at San Siro and is set for a prolonged run in the team in the wake of the Czech Republic international's injury. Although he has never let Chelsea down, particularly when he made his debut by keeping a clean sheet in a Champions League tie with Barcelona in October 2006, Mourinho said it would help Inter's cause if Cech is sidelined.
The Inter manager said: "I hope it is not a big injury but of course it would be better for me if he was out, I have to be honest. But Hilario is a stable player. He went to Chelsea exactly for this. Remember the first game for Chelsea was Barcelona in the Champions League so it is no problem if Hilario plays. He is a stable goalkeeper."
Hilario has started seven games for Chelsea this season, and has kept five clean sheets including in a 2-0 victory over Liverpool in October in which he was named the man of the match. Since he moved to the club on a free transfer from Nacional in July 2006 the Portuguese keeper has started just 30 games.
Frank Lampard said the loss of Cech, who had one of his best games of an inconsistent season in last weekend's victory at Wolves, is a blow that Chelsea will overcome, as Hilario has played consistently well whenever he has been called upon. Lampard said: "It's a huge blow. He's in fantastic form as everyone knows. He's always been up there with the best in the world and no one wants to lose that. Hilario has never let us down at all. He has always been fantastic, whether he's come in for one game here or there or a run of a few games. So that's not something we're worried about. Obviously, losing Pete is a big blow but when people like Hilario come in, he plays well. We've got Ross Turnbull behind him as well. We have to have faith in them and we've got that."
The return leg is not until 16 March but Mourinho wasted no time in beginning the pre-match posturing, claiming Inter will go into the game with a distinct advantage. "It is different to go with a draw or a defeat than go in front," he said. "At Stamford Bridge, in the first second of the game, Inter will be in the quarter-final and Chelsea will be out. After, we will see. There are 90 minutes, maybe two hours, to play for it. But once we have put the foot in the first second of the game we are in the quarter-finals. Mentally it is an advantage."Reuse content