Chelsea's dwindling hopes of winning the Premier League took another blow yesterday when it was confirmed that the defender Branislav Ivanovic will be missing for at least a month after tearing a knee ligament during Sunday's 1-1 draw at Blackburn.
The Serbian defender was caught by Blackburn's El Hadji Diouf, and a scan yesterday revealed a tear to his medial collateral ligament. The news leaves Chelsea's manager, Carlo Ancelotti, scratching around for full backs for tomorrow's trip to Portsmouth.
Ivanovic, whose favoured position is centre-half, had been deputising for Portuguese international Jose Bosingwa, who has had a second operation on a knee injury, ruling him out for the rest of the season and the World Cup. Left-back Ashley Cole has missed the past month with a fractured ankle, and may not be fit to play again this season.
Ancelotti is likely to turn to a pair of veteran squad members in Paulo Ferreira, aged 31, and Juliano Belletti, 33, for tomorrow's must-win trip to Fratton Park. Belletti, whose contract runs out in June, almost moved back to Brazil in January to play for Flamengo, but Chelsea blocked the move.
The loss of Ivanovic caps a miserable week for the club, after their meek Champions League elimination to Internazionale last week, which prompted Chelsea's owner, Roman Abramovich, to address the squad at the training ground less than 24 hours later. Sunday's disappointing draw at Blackburn saw Chelsea drop to third in the Premier League, behind manchester United and Arsenal, albeit with tomorrow's game in hand.
Ivanovic, 26, had been one of the most consistent players this season, and had started 33 games. Only John Terry and Frank Lampard have played more games under Ancelotti.