Sidwell fails to cut it for Chelsea

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The Independent Online

Steve Sidwell has been excluded from Chelsea's squad for the remainder of their Champions League campaign – which will cast further doubt over the midfielder's already uncertain future at Stamford Bridge.

The 25-year-old joined Chelsea on a free transfer last summer after running down his contract at Reading. But despite the club's injury crisis and players, such as Michael Essien, being absent at the African Nations Cup, half his 24 appearances this season have been as substitute. Indeed Sidwell has started just one Premier League match since 1 December.

Sidwell's omission is no great surprise although it is a severe blow to his ambitions of cementing a place in the Chelsea team. He has played just six minutes in the Champions League this season, coming on as substitute in the away victory against Valencia last October and the return to fitness of Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard have made him surplus to requirements.

Also missing out in the squad list released by Chelsea is new £10m signing Branislav Ivanovic even though the Serbian defender was bought in time to be eligible for the competition's latter stages. Unsurprisingly, manager Avram Grant has also not included striker Claudio Pizarro while winger Scott Sinclair also does not make the cut.

In fairness to Chelsea, who are preparing to face Olympiakos next week, they have to work with the Uefa rules which stipulate that only 23 players can be named in the 'A' squad at any one time. That figure can be extended to 25 if three "locally trained players" are included but John Terry is the only first-teamer who fit that bill.

It means that Grant has had to leave players out to accommodate striker Nicolas Anelka and Ballack who has not played in the competition so far this season, having been injured for the first half of the campaign when his own future, under previous manager Jose Mourinho, was in doubt.

Grant said he was "unhappy" about being prevented from including his entire first-team squad. "It's a hard decision to take two players out when they have been playing well, but we need to choose, so I'm very disappointed that I cannot take all the team together. The players that are not in the list are very good players and have done a very good job and I am sure they still will, but I needed to choose because of the rules."

Sidwell, however, will be bitterly disappointed. He has failed to make the hoped-for breakthrough having snubbed a move to Newcastle United last summer to join Chelsea instead. There will be renewed interest in him in the summer if he continues to fail to make the grade.

Of greater concern to Grant is the fact that, following Sunday's goalless draw against Liverpool, Chelsea have not scored against, never mind beaten, any of the other so-called "big four" since he took control in September. Defeats away to Manchester United and Arsenal have been followed by the stalemate at Stamford Bridge.

John Obi Mikel, meanwhile, returned to action against Liverpool after coming back from the African Nations Cup and a scare over the loss of his eyesight. The Nigeria midfielder was poked in the eye in a clash with Anthony Annan during their 2-1 quarter-final defeat against Ghana and he was forced to leave the pitch.

"I couldn't see when I went back on the pitch and I had to go off," he said. "When the ball was coming, I couldn't see it properly. I didn't swap shirts with Michael Essien after the game because of the eye injury. I thought I'd lost my eyesight when I was lying on the floor, but thankfully everything is fine."

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