Chelsea face a fretful couple of days after it was confirmed yesterday that Joe Cole suffered ligament damage to his ankle in the impressive 2-0 victory over Aston Villa at the weekend.
It had been hoped that the midfielder, who was withdrawn from the England squad immediately after the game and will miss the forthcoming World Cup qualification matches, had only suffered bruising to his foot and leg following a hefty challenge from Stilian Petrov in the second half that forced him to be substituted.
Cole underwent MRI scans yesterday and last night the results were being analysed by Chelsea's medical team. However, Chelsea were not making any predictions as to how long the 26-year-old will be out for, partly because there is now an international break, but also because they were waiting until later this week when the swelling around the ankle is reduced before properly assessing the damage.
Nevertheless the news is a significant blow for Chelsea, who will hope it is a simple strain, and for Cole who had missed the last three games before Sunday's match – in which he scored the opening goal – through injury with a hip problem. He is unlikely to recover in time for the next Premier League game – away to Middlesbrough on Saturday 18 October.
Given Chelsea's crippling injury list – Deco, Ricardo Carvalho, Didier Drogba, Alex and Michael Essien are all out – it is another concern for manager Luiz Felipe Scolari. However there is hope that Deco may recover slightly ahead of schedule from the thigh muscle tear which has ruled him out for the past two weeks. The 31-year-old midfielder has flown to Portugal to meet up with the rest of the international squad ahead of their World Cup qualifiers. Portugal accept that Deco will miss this Saturday's tie away to Sweden but, such is his importance to the team, hope that he may play some part in Wednesday's fixture at home to Albania.
Yesterday, following his arrival back in Portugal, Deco spoke about the impact that Scolari has made at Chelsea and the differences between the Brazilian and Jose Mourinho whom the midfielder also worked under when he was at Porto. Deco, who along with Jose Bosingwa has been a resounding success at Chelsea, said that Mourinho was far more "detailed" in his preparations than Scolari but – crucially – that Scolari was better at motivating the players and giving them the freedom to play.
It has been one of the most important differences between the Chelsea of this season and previous years with the squad appearing to be unshackled from the rigid, almost machine-like, discipline that Mourinho installed and which carried them through the last campaign following his departure last September.
Scolari has also inherited a fantastically talented squad – and has added to it wisely although both Deco and Bosingwa were players who had, at one time or another, been targeted by Mourinho as well – and given them the confidence and belief to play more expansive football.
Tactically Scolari is not regarded as one of the strongest of coaches but in using Bosingwa and Ashley Cole as attacking full-backs he has created an extra dimension within the team that had been lacking.
It has also undoubtedly helped – given the strong personalities in the Chelsea dressing room such as Drogba, Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack – that Scolari is the only coach in the Premier League who has won the World Cup and is also a larger-than-life character himself who naturally embraces the spotlight and attention, as much as he protests, that being in charge of Chelsea inevitably brings. He likes to be seen with stars and celebrities just as Mourinho did.
There is another key and highly-significant factor to Scolari's success so far. His name is Darlan Schneider and, according to sources at Chelsea, he is "half the reason" why Scolari is impressing so much. Schneider is, in fact, Scolari's nephew – he is the son of Scolari's wife's sister – and holds the title of fitness coach at Chelsea.
But Schneider – just as Rui Faria, another fitness coach, and Andre Villas Boas, the scout, mattered so much to Mourinho – is far more important than his title would suggest. They were mini-Mourinhos, he is a mini-Scolari. Indeed Schneider helps shape not just the players' fitness and conditioning but prepares them for matches, and organises their recovery programmes, and is heavily involved in scouting players and the opposition and deciding Chelsea's tactics. Schneider also has the job of helping to decide Chelsea's youth strategy.
"He fills in the blanks for Scolari. He's the secret," said one insider who has been impressed by Schneider's work so far, "all the players who work with him say he is very good and speak highly of him." Schneider, like Scolari a Brazilian, abandoned a career as a footballer at the age of 18 – after realising he was not going to make the grade – and took a degree in sports science.
He first linked up with Scolari in Kuwait in 1989, before returning to Brazil to work there for a year, and then rejoined Scolari when he also returned to South America to coach Cruzeiro. The pair have been together ever since alongside another of Scolari's associates, Flavio 'Murtosa' Teixera whose relationship with the Chelsea manager began when the pair played against each other.