Chelsea have suffered a double injury blow with Ricardo Carvalho ruled out for a month after damaging medial knee ligaments while his fellow Portuguese international Deco will be missing for the next two weeks after suffering a muscle tear in his thigh.
The confirmation of both injuries, following the far more serious six-month lay-off suffered by Michael Essien, after he ruptured a cruciate knee ligament, will stretch the resources of the manager, Luiz Felipe Scolari. Chelsea have four matches in the next fortnight and will be tested, especially as Michael Ballack is only just returning to fitness.
Both Portuguese players are vital to Scolari's plans with Deco, in particular, sorely missed after he suffered his injury in the warm-up before Sunday's Premier League fixture against Manchester United. The injury clearly set Chelsea back while Carvalho then limped off early in the first half.
The 30-year-old central defender will be absent for tomorrow night's Carling Cup tie away to Portsmouth, the league match at Stoke City, the Champions League tie away to Romanian side CFR Cluj and the home league fixture against Aston Villa. There is then an international break, which is bad news for Portugal, who have two World Cup qualification games, but will be a relief for Chelsea, who will hope to have the defender, as well as Deco, back for the game away to Middlesbrough on 18 October and certainly in time for the Champions League tie at home to Roma the following Tuesday.
Scolari seemed deeply concerned about the injuries following Sunday's match and his worries have now been confirmed. He is bringing in the 33-year-old Brazilian Mineiro, out of contract at Hertha Berlin, as midfield cover but he will be mightily relieved that John Terry's red card against Manchester City last week was overturned so he is available.
United, meanwhile, will face no further punishment from the Football Association beyond a £25,000 fine – automatically triggered when a team collect six yellow cards – following the flurry of seven bookings handed out to them at Stamford Bridge. The club will also receive a letter asking them to be aware of their duties to keep their players in check, but there was nothing in the referee Mike Riley's report that would warrant further sanctions.
The hard-fought draw steadied United's season and, although John Obi Mikel claimed yesterday that Chelsea should have won, it appeared a fair result. "We played much better than them," the Nigerian midfielder said. "The first 10 minutes was a bit difficult but after that we calmed down and started passing the ball. I think from then until the end of the game we played much better than them. It's so disappointing that we had a few chances and didn't put them away. We should have got the three points."
United, having taken the lead, will feel the same, although Wayne Rooney was able to draw comfort from the fact that the team has had three tricky away matches in succession. "As soon as we saw the fixture list we knew it was going to be a tough start," the 22-year-old striker said of the sequence away to Portsmouth, Liverpool and Chelsea. "We have just had three hard games, possibly our toughest of all. Now, hopefully, we can go on a run."
For United there was also the added bonus of Cristiano Ronaldo again edging towards full fitness. "It is a great boost for everyone to have Cristiano back," Rooney said. "He adds a different dimension to our play. Everyone knows what a great player he is. Once he is fully fit he will soon start producing his best form again."
Quite how many of Sir Alex Ferguson's first-team squad will be in action against Middlesbrough tonight remains to be seen. In sanctioning the Carling Cup tie just 48 hours after a trip to London, the United manager appeared to be sending out a clear signal that he intends to hand opportunities to players such as the Angolan striker Manucho, who is set to make his debut, and Daniel Welbeck, as well as three young Brazilians, Rodrigo Possebon and the Da Silva brothers Rodrigo and Federico.