Club Focus – Chelsea – International break less than ideal for improving Blues

As Chelsea’s many stars depart for international duty around the world over the next week, Carlo Ancelotti will have to simply cross his fingers and hope they return unscathed ahead of a busy final two months of the season. With nine vital Premier League games to play and, of course, their two-legged Champions League quarter-final against rivals Manchester United looming, Ancelotti can ill afford to lose any of his players to injury, after finally reaching near-full strength at this crucial point of the season. Thursday’s training session at Cobham was strangely quiet with just six of the first team available due to international call-ups for nearly every member of the squad.

Backup goalkeepers Ross Turnbull and Hilario remain at the club, joined by Portugal’s defensive duo Paulo Ferreira and Jose Bosingwa as they were not called upon for their nation’s friendly matches against Chile and Finland. Meanwhile, Nicolas Anelka, Chelsea’s top scorer this season with 16 goals, will not join up with the French national side to face Luxembourg in a Euro 2012 qualifier tonight due to his serving of an 18-match ban imposed by the French Football Federation in the aftermath of last summer’s World Cup fiasco. Florent Malouda has travelled to Luxembourg before Laurent Blanc’s side host Croatia next Tuesday for a friendly in Paris.

Of the others departing for international duty, the most notable is surely John Terry, whose reappointment as England captain has dominated the back pages in the lead up to the Three Lions Euro 2012 clash with Wales in Cardiff. He should lead out defensive colleague Ashley Cole and could be vice-captained by Frank Lampard if the 32-year-old is selected in midfield by Fabio Capello on Saturday. The trio could meet a familiar face in that of Michael Essien, who will likely play for Ghana in their friendly next Tuesday night at Wembley.

Elsewhere, January signing Fernando Torres will hope to rediscover his goal scoring touch against club-mate Petr Cech as Spain host Czech Republic in their Group I clash. Having failed to hit the net in seven games for the Blues since his £50m move from Liverpool, ironically his first goal since January 22 could come against his club goalkeeper if he finds a way past Cech. If not tonight, then he could have the chance again next Tuesday as Spain travel to Lithuania looking to strengthen their position atop the group while Cech will look to shut out minnows Liechtenstein.

Meanwhile, Branislav Ivanovic should represent Serbia in their qualifiers against Northern Ireland and Estonia, while Yuri Zhirkov’s return to fitness boosts the Russian squad ahead the Group B leader’s trip to Armenia, before a friendly with Qatar in a match between the hosts of World Cup 2018 and 2022. Brazilian duo David Luiz and Ramires need not clock up the miles for their country’s friendly against Scotland as they face off at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium on Sunday, unlike Ivory Coast stars Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou or Nigeria’s John Obi Mikel, who travel long distance to represent their countries in this weekend’s African Cup of Nations qualifiers.

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