Chelsea suffered a blow to their Champions' League ambitions yesterday when their winger Damien Duff was ruled out potentially for the rest of the season.
The club's record £17m signing dislocated his shoulder for the second time this season in a fall during training at the club's base near Heathrow Airport. The Irishman has been a key figure in Claudio Ranieri's plans since his summer move from Blackburn Rovers and was badly missed during the team's 3-1 defeat in their Champions' League semi-final first leg in Monaco last week, when he was still recovering from a virus that kept him out of three games.
The Chelsea manager had been hoping that Duff would be available for the second leg at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday. However, he has been deprived of a vital source of attacking inspiration for a game in which Chelsea must score at least twice to have a chance of reaching the final.
Ranieri said Duff might need an operation to solve his shoulder problems after this latest setback. He said: "It's important to wait one week and then we will decide what is the best for him. Of course, he could miss the rest of the season but maybe there is a chance to see him again."
He explained that Duff had suffered the fall in a tackle with Glen Johnson, who is now back in contention after recovering from an ankle injury. "Duff fell against the shoulder and it dislocated again," Ranieri said. "He had recovered his stamina and strength, and he is very important for us. But that's football. What can we do? Nothing, just think without him for the next matches and try to do our best."
Duff will miss the remaining three Premiership games - against Southampton, Manchester United and Leeds United - as Chelsea attempt to finish second in the League. While there is a slim chance that the Irishman could be fit in time for the Champions' League final on 26 May if Chelsea did go through, it is far more likely that his season is over.
At least, Ranieri could have the goalkeeper, Carlo Cudicini, back to face the French Ligue 1 side. The Italian broke a bone in his hand during training in mid-March and has not played since, with the fourth-choice keeper Marco Ambrosio called in to replace him. Ambrosio was at fault for at least one of Monaco's three goals in the first leg.
Cudicini returned to full training this week and could be ready for Saturday's game at home to Southampton, but the Monaco match is a more realistic target.
Marcel Desailly's appeal against a three-game ban for elbowing Monaco's Fernando Morientes is set to be heard Friday, but regardless of how that pans out Ranieri is counting on William Gallas to be back for the second leg.
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