Chelsea fear for Drogba's fitness as they limp on ahead of Ferguson's men

With Blues' Premier League lead down to one point, Ancelotti faces tough decision on whether key striker can play a part
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The Independent Online

The Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti faces a dilemma over the fitness of striker Didier Drogba following Saturday's damaging defeat by Tottenham at White Hart Lane.

The setback left Chelsea one point clear of rivals Manchester United at the top of the Premier League. But if they win their remaining three games, two at home to Stoke and Wigan with a trip to Liverpool sandwiched in between, the Blues will be champions for the first time since 2006.

Captain John Terry was dismissed for two bookable offences against Spurs. He will miss their next home game against Stoke on Sunday by which time Manchester United could have regained the leadership. But while Chelsea can cope with Terry's absence now that Branislav Ivanovic is fit again, they may have to rely on winning the next three games with the talismanic Drogba still nursing his groin problem. Drogba has scored 32 goals this season but has struggled since it was made clear the Ivorian is battling an injury.

The striker tweaked the groin at the start of the second-half against Tottenham and wanted to come off but Ancelotti had already made three changes – two of them at the interval. Drogba had to play on through the pain barrier for the remainder of the second half but looked nothing like the striker who has again terrorised defences in the top flight this season. He is unlikely to want to carry the injury into the World Cup finals in South Africa this summer and is almost certain to undergo surgery. But the big dilemma facing the club and the player is when that will be carried out.

"It's his decision," said Ancelotti. "He doesn't have a big problem. It's more about controlling the situation. He'll take a decision at the end of the season, whether he has surgery or not. But it's not sure he'll have surgery."

Chelsea will continue to monitor Drogba's injury but, against Spurs, he was certainly far from the marauding figure that has been on display for much of the season. Nicolas Anelka, who scored the winner from a Drogba cross against Bolton last week, may now get the chance to spearhead their bid for the title along with Drogba's Ivorian team-mate Salomon Kalou.

Kalou insists that Drogba remains one of the best strikers in the game and their close relationship could reap dividends for the Blues on the run-in.

"Every time I have the chance to work with him I listen to what he has to say – he is very important to me," said Kalou. "When you're talking about strikers in the game today, Didier is one of the best and I want to take advantage of this opportunity to learn from him. Didier is like a big brother to me. First of all we come from the same country and that makes us closer.

"He still takes me to one side at training and gives me tips. We are always working in front of the goal. He is always so sharp in front of the net and I want to improve that side of my game. I can improve and develop every season by playing with him. Didier this year has been very important for the club, like every year.

"He has an amazing goal-scoring record for Chelsea and as a player it is a level I want to reach. I'm taking it step by step but I am trying to get in the team regularly first."

Meanwhile, the Wigan Athletic midfielder, Ben Watson, is hoping to be given a fair crack of the whip by his manager Roberto Martinez after a season of frustration. It was Watson's 80th-minute strike that sparked Wigan's remarkable comeback in Sunday's 3-2 victory over Arsenal at the DW Stadium that helped Chelsea out in their hunt for the title.

Trailing 2-0 with 10 minutes remaining, Watson sidefooted home what many thought would merely be a consolation. But Titus Bramble and Charles N'Zogbia fired Wigan to their first Premier League win over the Gunners after eight defeats and a draw, leaving the Latics seven points clear of the relegation zone.

The match was Watson's first league start for almost a year as he has found himself surplus to requirements under the Spaniard since his arrival last summer. The 24-year-old has this season spent four months on loan at QPR and another month at West Brom, last week intimating a permanent move to the promoted Baggies was not out of the question during the closed season.

Watson now feels he has given Martinez food for thought in the wake of a superb display against the Gunners. "It's been a frustrating season for myself, but it was nice to be back, playing and getting on the scoresheet," said Watson. "I've not played as much as I wanted to play in the team this year, which is the gaffer's choice at the end of the day. He makes the decisions.

"I've been out on loan a couple of times, worked hard, got my chance and I feel like I did reasonably well in this game. Whether I've done enough to convince the manager I should be a regular, I don't know. I've played one game. I don't want to get ahead of myself. I'll go into training the next few days, do what I've been doing all season and we'll see what happens."

The astonishing result leaves Wigan one win shy of near-certain safety, with vital matches at relegation rivals West Ham and home to Hull looming over the next two weekends.

"It was a massive result," said Watson. "The winning goal from Charles was a fantastic strike, a great goal to win a game, any game, and a great moment for the team and for everybody in the town.

"We're at West Ham this weekend, which is another massive game for us, and if we can get a result there then we'll be safe. This club needs to stay in the Premier League. We're almost there. If we stay up we then need to finish as high as we can and build on it next season."

Another player involved in the relegation scrap, the Hull City midfielder, Jimmy Bullard, has told fans he is driven by pride and not pound signs following recent criticism of his displays.

As the Tigers fight for Premier League survival, frustrated supporters have turned on the £5m club record signing since he returned from injury last month. Many feel Bullard has failed to recapture the form which saw him crowned the Premier League player of the month for November.

But speaking to the Hull Daily Mail, Bullard said: "Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but sometimes it goes like that. It is hard to win player of the month every month. I am out there to do the best I can and sometimes it is enough and sometimes it isn't. One week you are up in the clouds the next week you are down. You make what you can of it, but I never get too down about it. When the whistle is blown I'm just out there being me, there's no money in my head."

His manager Iain Dowie, meanwhile, has drawn on retired American athletics star Michael Johnson for inspiration ahead of one of the most important weeks in the club's history. Hull are three points adrift of safety going into games at the KC Stadium against Aston Villa tomorrow and Sunderland on Saturday.

Dowie believes survival now comes down to mental strength, which is why four-time Olympic gold medallist Johnson springs to mind. "Whether we have the quality we will see in the next four games. I believe we have," Dowie said. "I think it was Michael Johnson who said the mental side is the crucial element. Athletically he knew he was good enough, it was putting the demons to one side. It's about us making sure we have a positive attitude."

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