Self-inflicted wounds have hurt Chelsea all season and there was another revealed yesterday when it emerged that goalkeeper Petr Cech had to undergo plastic surgery and have 50 stitches in his face after being kicked in the head during training by his team-mate, Tal Ben Haim.
The freak accident, which included deep cuts to Cech's lip and chin after the defender's studs caught him full on, occurred on Sunday with the 25-year-old now ruled out for at least the next two weeks. He was due to play against Fenerbahce tonight, in the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final, having missed Chelsea's last nine games with an ankle injury.
Given the uncertainties that have surrounded the form of his stand-in, Carlo Cudicini, Cech's loss is another severe blow. Chelsea, however, will hope most of the action is down the other end of the pitch as they face the Turkish champions who hold a 2-1 lead after events in Istanbul last week.
The damage to Cech's face was serious enough for him to have to undergo surgery on Sunday afternoon, and there is always concern about his well-being given the fact that he has to wear protective headgear since suffering a horrific depressed skull fracture in October 2006. Manager Avram Grant refused to elaborate on the incident yesterday. "He was more than a bit unlucky this year already and he was great in training yesterday," he said. "He was very unlucky to get the injury and we think he will be out for another two weeks."
That would mean missing league matches against Wigan Athletic and Everton, with Chelsea no doubt targeting the fixture against Manchester United and, hopefully, a Champions League semi-final for his return. Anything short of comprehensively defeating Fenerbahce is unthinkable for Chelsea, with Grant aware that if he has any chance – and the prospects remain slim – of holding on to his job he has to convincingly sweep through this tie.
"This is my job and every time you need to ask this question and the answer is the same," he said when asked if he expected to be moved on should Chelsea lose. "I cannot think before every game to answer this question and my job is to prepare for this game and do my best. We have spoken to the players that this is a big opportunity. This season has been hard because there have been many difficulties but we have got to this stage."
History provides little comfort. Chelsea over-turned a first-leg deficit three years ago, when defeating Barcelona on an exhilarating evening, but failed to recover against the same opponents the following season and, famously, against Monaco in 2004 in a tie which many regarded as Claudio Ranieri's suicide note.
Not that Fenerbahce, despite winning their last six games, can quite be regarded as the same calibre of opponents. They are yet to win away in this competition this season, beyond a victory in the qualifying round. And although their coach, Zico, who may have fellow Brazilian Roberto Carlos, a one-time Chelsea target, available after injury, argued that they don't have to win he is also acutely aware that they will, probably, have to score. "We will play what we always play: attacking football," he said.
This is certainly the business end of the season and the experience which is throughout the Chelsea squad should see them qualify tonight with Grant calling on them to "dominate" their opponents the way they did Olympiakos in the previous round. Michael Ballack was one of the scorers then, in a comfortable 3-0 victory, and the German international is expected to reclaim his place having been left out for the victory over Manchester City at the weekend.
Ballack conceded yesterday that Chelsea had made their task harder having, he admitted, thought after 45 minutes of the first-leg "it would be easy". "But the game changed," he added. "We have to concentrate and prepare. We lost and we have to win. It's a long time since they [Fenerbahce] were in a quarter-final and they have nothing to lose and that makes them very dangerous."
The midfielder added that there was extra motivation in the manner that Chelsea were defeated in the Carling Cup final, against Tottenham Hotspur, and knocked out of the FA Cup by Barnsley – a result that appears to have fatally damaged Grant's prospects of remaining as manager.
"We went to a final and shouldn't have lost it," Ballack said. "It was our fault, it wasn't that Tottenham played fantastic football. The same against Barnsley it was our fault, and against Fenerbahce it was our fault. When we play our best football we can win every competition but we didn't do this in the FA Cup and the Carling Cup and we went out. It's our motivation for tomorrow."
One unanswered goal – which would be Chelsea's 200th in this competition – will be enough. It's a milestone that, for them and Grant in particular, it doesn't bear thinking about not reaching.
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