Jose Mourinho would not even countenance discussing the performance of Andrei Shevchenko on Tuesday night, but the Ukrainian could count himself the lucky one of Chelsea's two starting strikers against Rosenborg. It was Salomon Kalou who was understood to be the main target of Mourinho's anger in the immediate aftermath of their embarrassing 1-1 Champions League draw.
The Ivorian striker might have been the post-match focus for his manager in the dressing room but Chelsea's current failure to score goals is not his problem alone. Mourinho has three days until he visits Old Trafford to face a Manchester United team rejuvenated by the return of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. His Chelsea squad has rarely looked quite so weak.
The problem for Mourinho is not just confined to Kalou's profligacy in front of goal, or Shevchenko's ever decreasing speed of movement, it is that he has no options beyond those two for Sunday's game. Although Didier Drogba strode around the edge of the pitch on Tuesday night to remind the home fans what they were missing there seems only the remotest prospect that Mourinho will persuade him to play against United on Sunday.
Frank Lampard is a much more willing volunteer when it comes to playing through the pain but even he is unlikely to make a comeback in time for Old Trafford. Michael Ballack remains the forgotten man of Stamford Bridge and tomorrow will mark five months exactly since he last played for the club. Yet those close to the German say that he will play sooner than Chelsea believe, certainly before the end of the Champions League first group phase for which he is not eligible.
As ever, the man doing the really crucial work over the next few days will be the Chelsea club doctor Bryan English. Highly respected within British sport – he formerly worked for UK Athletics – he is also well-liked and trusted by the Chelsea players. When John Terry needed a painkilling jab before the England international against Israel this month it was English who was at Wembley to administer it. If English cannot rehabilitate Chelsea's missing men then Mourinho really does have a problem.
The season has become a mess for Chelsea before it has even begun. The new players like Juliano Belletti and Alex da Costa were jittery and unsure on Tuesday and Mourinho was left to admonish players like Kalou – hardly the heartbeat of the team – as things go wrong. When tearing into his team it is usually the Chelsea manager's policy to make his point by picking on the big players but at the moment there are just so few of them left.
The time to be radical with his Chelsea team has undoubtedly arrived but for Mourinho there is precious little he can change. There are no really big names to drop and leaving out Shevchenko has long since lost its shock factor. "Shevchenko is part of my team and I don't like to speak of individuals. We couldn't win. So [I have] nothing special to say about that." That was as close as Mourinho came to praising his Ukrainian striker on Tuesday.
With Ricardo Carvalho and Claudio Pizarro also missing and Alex looking off the pace there appears to be just one obvious option left to Mourinho. He has the players to make up a 4-5-1 formation to contain United if he is prepared to settle for a third straight Premier League match without a victory.
That begs one more question of the fragile dynamic within the Chelsea squad: what happens to Joe Cole? Given only his second start of the season on Tuesday night, the England midfielder glowered when he was substituted as Mourinho went for broke in the last 16 minutes. Shaun Wright-Phillips is flavour of the moment, Florent Malouda arguably the team's most in-form player. If Mourinho plays conservatively on Sunday, as he surely has to, then potentially there would be no role for Cole.
The England midfielder had a public falling out with his manager in view of his team-mates after Chelsea's win over Portsmouth in August and the basis of his relationship with his manager is understood to be delicate at the best of times.
"We'll need that killer instinct," Petr Cech said on Tuesday. "You can't just keep wasting chances. At the moment, we're creating lots. The day will come when we create one or two, and we have to put them away. That's important."
Chelsea scored 19 fewer goals than Manchester United in the Premier League last season and of the 64 goals they did score in that campaign, 31 came from Drogba and Lampard. Missing just one of those players for a game at Old Trafford poses a significant problem – both of them is something approaching a disaster for Chelsea.Reuse content