The Football Association set the stage for another disciplinary showdown with Chelsea today when it announced it would push for a longer ban for Eden Hazard than the statutory three games for the red card he received over the ballboy incident on Wednesday.
The FA said that a three-match ban for Hazard's dismissal against Swansea, in which he kicked at a ballboy, was "clearly insufficient" and an independent regulatory commission will decide next week the tariff that the player must serve.
In private, the club would have accepted the three-game ban. They are now likely to appeal against any additional games. Chelsea have until 6pm on Tuesday to put together their submission to the commission.
Hazard will start his ban on Sunday when his club face Brentford in the fourth round of the FA Cup at a time when manager Rafa Benitez believes his squad is too light on numbers to carry the club through a heavy period of fixtures. There have been long-term injuries to John Terry and Oriol Romeu while John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses are at the African Cup of Nations, narrowing Benitez's options.
"We do not have too many players and we are playing too many games," Benitez said. "We have played nine games a month, we have two players at the African Nations, we do not have too many bodies, we have to change players and it will be another approach."
Charged by the FA with "violent conduct", Hazard, 22, will potentially miss up to five games for Chelsea for the incident in the Capital One Cup semi-final second leg at the Liberty Stadium. A ban of that length would take him up to the fifth round of the FA Cup, providing Chelsea beat Brentford. The sixth game is the league fixture away at Manchester City.
There was some good news for the Belgium international today when South Wales police said they would not be pursuing any investigation into the incident with the 17-year-old ballboy, Charlie Morgan.
Hazard will not be required to give evidence at the independent commission hearing next week. Instead, there will be written and video submissions by the FA and Chelsea, with the latter hoping that a new camera angle from Sky Sports will help their cause. It appears to show Hazard making contact with the ball which emerges from under the ballboy.
In the meantime, Benitez takes his side to Griffin Park tomorrow hopeful that Chelsea can stay alive in a competition they have won in four of the last six seasons. He admitted that he had little option but to play Frank Lampard and Ramires in every game in the absence of Mikel and Romeu.
Benitez said: "If you talk about substitutions and how can you change the game it is not so easy. People say there are players you can play and you will score three times but if you play them too much they do not have the physical intensity. The players are a little tired.
"When we have three or four days' rest we are fine, when we have two we are not so good."
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