Chelsea have been given a much-needed boost by midfielder Michael Essien as the club's growing injury crisis worsened with the loss of defender Ricardo Carvalho with ankle ligament damage.
Carvalho will be out for at least a month and his absence could be longer if it is found the Portugal international requires corrective surgery.
Carvalho's blow came just days after right-back Branislav Ivanovic was ruled out for a month with a knee injury collected in the 1-1 draw against Blackburn last weekend.
Essien has not appeared for Chelsea since December when he tore a hamstring against APOEL in the Champions League and then damaged his knee while on international duty with Ghana at the African Cup of Nations.
But having suffered some complications during his rehabilitation, the 27-year-old believes he is close to a return - giving the Blues a timely boost.
"I was hoping to be back available for the home game against Inter Milan last week but the healing has taken a bit longer than expected because my knee kept swelling up,' explained Essien.
"In two weeks I ended up having four lots of surgery to try and get the fluid away from the area. Finally it seems to be okay and I am making progress. I know I just have to be patient and give it time to settle down and heal.
"I'm in at 9.30 every morning and I don't leave until five and that's seven days a week. I'm spending lots of time in the pool as that's a good way to help the healing.
"On a positive note I'm feeling mentally strong and I try to stay philosophical about injuries. There are worse injuries than mine and there are people in the world suffering with far more serious problems than this."
Carvalho's loss will leave Chelsea without five regular first-team players as they chase Manchester United for the title.
Left-back Ashley Cole is out with a fractured ankle and Jose Bosingwa requires further surgery on his knee. Ivanovic and Carvalho will miss the title showdown with Manchester United over Easter and they will remain doubts for the FA Cup final, should Chelsea beat Aston Villa in the semi-final a week later.
Meanwhile, Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba increased his goal tally for the season to 30 in all competitions with a double in the 5-0 hammering of Portsmouth on Wednesday night.
But Drogba insists his efforts will count for nothing if Chelsea fail to win any silverware. The Ivorian limped off at the end of the game with a knee injury but does not think it will be serious enough to keep him of their clash with Aston Villa tomorrow.
"Knowing that I am not taking the penalties and missed a few games, it is maybe the best season I've ever had," said Drogba.
"But it would be a poor season if I finished top scorer and Chelsea didn't win anything. Winning individual prizes is just a bonus. The knee is painful but I think it's going to be all right."
Chelsea's title hopes have been revitalised following their victory over Portsmouth but they must overcome Villa before taking on Manchester United over Easter.
"We have to concentrate on this game on Saturday and then we'll think about Manchester United. Both games are related. Let's do everything to win the first one and then we will have time to think about United."Reuse content