It’s back to business for the Blues this weekend as the arrival of Wolverhampton Wanderers looms. Carlo Ancelotti will need to regroup a relatively depleted squad as wing-backs Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa are set for lengthy spells on the sidelines. Key players Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack also picked up knocks away on international duty. News that won’t sit well with the Chelsea tactician, especially with a busy Christmas period on the horizon, as well as absentees pre-accounted for with the African Cup of Nations in January.
Vice club Captain, Lampard is set for couple of weeks out with a thigh problem, a reoccurrence of an old injury, although controversially claimed to have been prompted via cramp on a ‘cheap’ flight to Qatar with the England squad. The midfielder is therefore a doubt for the weekend’s game but may be risked with a place on the bench. Fellow Englishman, A. Cole, also re-aggravated a leg injury sustained over a month ago. The left-back’s fracture of a depressed tibia intensified after playing through an injection against Manchester United, and will see the 28-year-old miss a string of upcoming games. On the opposite flank Jose Bosingwa has undergone arthroscopic surgery to contend with his left knee seeing the right-back out for the next three months according to the clubs official website. Didier Drogba (chest) and Michael Ballack (knee) also withdrew from international duty with minor injuries.
The Chelsea squad should however cope with these notable absentees, with no disrespect to Wolves, it is a game the Blues would be expected to win. With timely returns from Joe Cole, Paulo Ferreira and Alex the squad is strong in depth. Ferreira and Branislav Ivanovic will adopt the roles left behind by the injured wing-banks. Joe Cole is likely to play alongside Jon Obi Mikel and Michael Essien, should the midfield duo of Lampard and Ballack fail to reach match fitness. The issue for Chelsea however, is how the replacements respond to a formation they are largely unfamiliar with. Both Ferreira (on his weaker side) and Ivanovic are unlikely to create the width or attacking threat provided by the usually favoured wing-back pairing. Without this width a congested game will arise and may even see a battling Wolves prevail. The Christmas tree formation may therefore be reconsidered or compromised with, due to the loss of the wing-backs the Chelsea tactician may utilise Flourent Malouda or Salomon Kalou to provide the necessary outlets and attacking potency.
The natural power provided by Ballack, Lampard and Drogba through the spine will require the replacements – if need be – attain the physical characteristics clearly omitted through the loss of these fundamental players. The physical factor, if not countered efficiently will be capitalised upon by a team fresh from the Championship struggle. Mikel and Essien should sufficiently combat the physicality required to defeat ‘lesser teams’ of this nature. Despite a depleted back four and midfield, Chelsea will be keen to extend their run of clean sheets at home, running back 872 minutes against a side of who have scored seven times away from the Molineux this year.
Wolves are often found backed against the wall on their travels this season, resorting to shots from long range a feat often obliged by former Reading man Kevin Doyle with 29 attempts to his name this season. Wolves are the only newly promoted side not to have pinched a point from a member of the ‘top four’ this year and have just two wins to celebrate in this season’s campaign. The team from the west midlands face the Pensioners on the back of 4-1 crushing to Arsenal, but will face a much different opposition in Chelsea. Although a team arguably of equal stature the Blues pose a more physical and disciplined threat as opposed to the more obvious attack minded menace of Arsenal.
In spite of a number of injuries on the international break, many players were able to cement their World Cup place. Portugal and France progressed alongside Nigeria, seeing Chelsea players Mikel, Ferreira, Deco, Ricardo Carvalho, Flourent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka advance to the tournament. Russian Yury Zhirkov, yet to break into Ancelotti’s preferred XI, has failed however to progress to the World Cup stage after defeat to the away goals ruling, the left-winger was also dismissed in the latter stages.