Jose Mourinho's woes may well be worsened if his Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba is unable to shake off a knee injury that has troubled him for three months.
It is hardly crisis time at Stamford Bridge as the 3-0 defeat at struggling Middlesbrough on Saturday was only the third defeat of Mourinho's tenure, following on from the 1-0 reverse to Manchester City last season and a similar defeat by Manchester United this term. However, the insipid performance from his expensively assembled team will not have pleased Mourinho. The coach now has a week to examine videos of the game in an attempt to put things right but the return of Drogba from international duty at the African Nations' Cup may not be as encouraging as it sounds.
Drogba helped his country to the final of the tournament before the Ivorians lost on penalties to the hosts Egypt. But the striker warns that he is still suffering from the effects of a knee problem he collected on international duty last year and is only playing at 60 per cent capacity.
Drogba played on through the tournament despite having soreness in his damaged knee and continued fears about his fitness will worry the champions.
"For three months I have had lingering pain in my knee," Drogba said. "I am fine in my mind but I can't play as I would do. When I kick, and change direction, I am not at my best. Even for my goal against Nigeria, I didn't kick the ball as I wanted. I am only at 60 per cent of my abilities.
"I don't achieve anything exceptional. Actually, I just do again what I have learned in my club. I am looking for efficiency."
Mourinho would have preferred the striker to stay at Stamford Bridge instead of playing in the competition and if his injury worsens then Chelsea would have only Hernan Crespo and Carlton Cole as recognised replacements. Eidur Gudjohnsen can adapt to his former role in attack but the Iceland international has been enjoying a spell in the first team as a midfielder.
"At first, Mourinho said, 'You are on holidays, you have to come back perfectly fresh'," Drogba said. "It was a way of letting me understand he would have preferred me to stay."
Meanwhile, the fringe right-back Glen Johnson has not given up on his hopes of playing for England in the World Cup this summer. Johnson was left out of Mourinho's side for the defeat at Middlesbrough but could return in the FA Cup fifth-round tie against the League One promotion hopefuls Colchester at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Johnson looked favourite to travel to Germany as cover for Gary Neville at one point but the Charlton Athletic captain Luke Young appears to have usurped him.
The 21-year-old needs to establish a consistent run in the first team if he is to have any hope of reaching the finals. Johnson knows that will not be easy, but he insists that his main priority lies with the champions.
Johnson said: "My priorities are Chelsea. I can't get to England without Chelsea. The manager's told me that I'm better off now at Chelsea, learning at Chelsea, rather than going out on loan. I'm still young and I feel as though I'm learning. I've been fighting for my place for the last two years, so it's obvious I want my future to be here. My ambitions are here."
If Chelsea are attempting to add the American Freddie Adu to their ranks, as has been reported, their task was made easier yesterday when Sir Alex Ferguson insisted that Manchester United are not looking to sign the 16-year-old.
Adu, who could force his way into the United States World Cup squad this summer, before making a move to one of the major European leagues in time for next season, has been watched by United but Ferguson said that there was no immediate chance of the youngster joining United.
"We are not interested in Freddie Adu," the Scot told MUTV. "We have watched him as a youngster, but there is no interest in him at the moment."Reuse content