Drogba faces fitness race for European duel with Liverpool
Published 16/04/2008 | 09:41
Didier Drogba's injury problems mean that Chelsea hope to get their striker fit for Tuesday's Champions League semi-final first leg against Liverpool rather than tomorrow night's match against Everton. The Ivorian is carrying a knee injury that has refused to clear up and the priority now is to get the player fit to play at Anfield next week.
Drogba was ruled out of the disastrous 1-1 draw with Wigan at Stamford Bridge on Monday that means Chelsea have blown their game in hand over Manchester United and find themselves five points adrift of the Premier League leaders who also have a much superior goal difference. With pressure mounting on Avram Grant personally from Chelsea fans, the prospect of Drogba's absence again tomorrow is a major blow for the Israeli.
The injury has troubled Drogba all season – he has just 13 goals in this campaign. He also missed the win over Manchester City on 5 April and his absence on Monday night was another major factor in Chelsea's failure to put the game out of sight of Wigan before Emile Heskey's last minute equaliser. Nevertheless, Petr Cech came through Monday's game having been rushed back into action eight days after having 50 stitches inserted into his lacerated face after a training ground collision with Tal Ben Haim.
While Cech was unable to prevent Heskey's goal, a few minutes earlier he had made a sharp save from Antoine Sibierski. Throughout Cech, who wore a chin guard to go with the head guard he has used since being hurt at Reading last season, looked untroubled by his recent injury. His return gave Chelsea's defence a more solid appearance, despite the continued failings of right-back Juliano Belletti. But four clean sheets in the remaining games will not be enough to overhaul Manchester United and Cech knows it.
"The message from our dressing room is that we are not throwing the towel in yet, but the problem is that we don't have destiny in our hands," he said. "We need to keep the pressure on and hope someone beats Manchester United. You never know, they were lucky against Arsenal; they could be unlucky against Blackburn or against the other teams.
"In the Premier League all the teams have quality and it is not easy playing them under the pressure of knowing you have to win. That's why they could drop some points. They also have to come to the Bridge. It is not over yet."
If Chelsea win at Everton, a big "if" even given Everton's faltering form, they will draw two points behind Manchester United who are at Blackburn on Saturday. The pair meet at Stamford Bridge the following Saturday, 26 April. Depending on results Chelsea could finish that game a point clear of the champions; or the final whistle could signal the retention of United's crown.
The latter is more probable. If Chelsea draw at Goodison and United win at Ewood Park, the latter will only need a point at the Bridge to claim their 17th title, one behind Liverpool's record. "We need to win the games against Everton and Manchester United," admitted Grant. "If not, it will be more difficult. We are still in it and will keep fighting but we need a bad result for United."
With Drogba a major doubt for tomorrow, Chelsea hope to have Frank Lampard back – he missed Monday's game after his mother was taken ill. Cech, at least, will be able to play having successfully negotiated Monday's 90 minutes.
"It was a bit of a risk to decide to play this game but I have been missing football for such a long time," said the goalkeeper, who had not played since 1 March, initially because of an ankle injury. He added: "I wanted to play, I wasn't forced to play and I had no fear before the game because I knew the wound was protected.
"When I got the protection for my face I decided to ask the Doc if they would let me play. He was not completely happy about it but he respected my decision and it was good to be back. I have had bad luck so I was hoping that nothing would go wrong this time."
Nothing did, until Heskey scored.