Jose Mourinho's attack on the five Chelsea players he believes have done nothing this season may have raised the tension among his players, but the reckoning will be tonight when he picks his team to face Aston Villa. For Andrei Shevchenko above all, this will be the moment when the £30m man learns just how disenchanted his manager has become with their performances.
Shevchenko had started just two of the last six Premiership matches and given Salomon Kalou's failure to make an impression in the last two draws at home, which have allowed Manchester United to draw clear at the top of the table, the Ukrainian international has made it clear he expects to start tonight. Should Mourinho keep faith with Kalou, it will be the strongest sign yet that his belief in Shevchenko is exhausted.
The picture is complicated slightly by the slim hope Chelsea have that Arjen Robben will be fit to play tonight having missed the last two games with a muscle injury he picked up in training. With Michael Ballack suspended, Robben could come back into the midfield alongside Frank Lampard, Claude Makelele and Michael Essien leaving the striking place alongside Didier Drogba up for grabs.
Kalou was among those who Mourinho named as having failed to perform this season and, like Shevchenko, he is perceived in the club as one of the players who did not sign on the manager's recommendation but that of the Chelsea hierarchy. Privately, some players feel that it is always those who did not come specifically on Mourinho's say-so who are exposed to his wrath.
There is disbelief at Chelsea at the contribution of Ballack this season, a player who was definitely signed on Mourinho's recommendation. Equally there has been surprise at the club that the Germany captain was not among those named by Mourinho on Saturday as having underperformed. With four goals this season, Ballack may have done more than Shevchenko but much less than was expected.
Khalid Boulahrouz's future also rests heavily on whether he is selected tonight with John Terry still out and Mourinho desperately short of centre-backs. Following his despair at Paulo Ferreira and Geremi's failure to dominate in the air against Fulham on Saturday, should Mourinho ignore Boulahrouz again tonight there would seem to be little hope at Chelsea for the out-of-favour Dutchman.Reuse content