Carlo Ancelotti, the Chelsea manager, is often happy to name his team on the eve of a game and yesterday was no exception as he went through his starting XI for this tea-time's trip to Aston Villa. He even told journalists the seven substitutes who will make up his bench.
But the Italian was in danger of running out of names, such is the extent of the injury problems at Stamford Bridge. After senior players John Terry and Frank Lampard were ruled out for England, the big names have continued to drop with Didier Drogba the latest to succumb, in his case to a high fever, joining Alex, Yossi Benayoun, Daniel Sturridge and Salomon Kalou on the sidelines.
With six first-team players missing, Ancelotti is to ask Terry to play today even though the captain is far from full fitness. The centre-half jarred his back during training with England a week ago and is still suffering from painful bruising, but Terry is once again ready to put his body on the line, despite having hardly trained this week.
Ancelotti said: "No he is not 100 per cent. He had a problem on his back and tried to train, and it wasn't perfect. This is a different moment. I'll ask him if he's able to play."
Terry's answer will undoubtedly be "Yes". Ideally Ancelotti would prefer to give his captain more time to rest but the games are coming thick and fast and Chelsea's squad is looking horribly thin. Only a month ago Ancelotti said he would not be asking Terry to play in pain again, after a Chelsea career that has seen him take to the pitch in plaster casts and face masks. However, last season Chelsea lost 2-1 at Aston Villa to a couple of set-piece goals and with Alex out with a thigh injury Ancelotti cannot afford to be without Terry, even if he is short of fitness.
"They are dangerous from set-pieces because they have good jumpers. Missing Alex and Drogba is a blow, so we have to find solutions," Ancelotti said.
Terry will also be asked to travel to Moscow, the scene of his 2008 Champions League final penalty miss, for Tuesday's Champions League tie with Spartak Moscow, although it is uncertain if he will be required to play on the plastic pitch at the Luzhniki Stadium. Lampard will be out for another two weeks as he recovers from a groin injury while Drogba is unlikely to be fit to travel to Moscow.
The injuries mean 19-year-old Gaël Kakuta is to start, while Josh McEachran, 17, will be one of three teenagers on the bench. Nevertheless, Ancelotti appeared confident and relaxed yesterday as he considered the trip to Villa with Chelsea four points clear of second-placed Manchester City. "I'm happy to have this squad and this kind of player, but this will be a good test to show our quality without these players. I'm not concerned about this," he said. "We have injuries, but we have to move on."
Chelsea are in contact with the Israeli Football Association over the torn Achilles injury that has ruled Benayoun out for six months. The midfielder complained that the tear was not picked up by Chelsea's medical staff but the club are insisting there was no tear when he left for international duty and are keen to find out when exactly the injury happened.
Ancelotti said: "We are sure that when he left England he did not have a tear on his tendon. I don't know what happened after he left us. I trust in the doctors at the club, we are sure. He had a problem on his calf, the MRI scan showed this, but the tendon was clear."Reuse content