Manchester United isn't the only club with concerns over the lack of availability of so many first-team squad members. Their opponents on Sunday -- Chelsea FC -- will be missing a number of key players due to injury, suspension, and the African Cup of Nations. Blues' manager Andre Villas-Boas held his weekly press conference today and he was able to provide a bit of insight as to who is available for selection versus United.
Undoubtedly, the hot topic of news at the moment is the England FA's decision to strip John Terry of his country's captaincy. Terry -- who is also the skipper for Chelsea -- missed his side's last match versus Swansea City and he has also been ruled out for the United encounter with a lingering bone oedema issue in his knee. Here is what Villas-Boas had to say about his defender:
"We went through January when our efficiency defensively improved a lot. John Terry was one of the most used players during this period and has been magnificent, him and his colleagues who partner him, so in that sense it is always a blow. He is the captain, a leader on the pitch and off it and he is a great player so we will miss him of course."
Ashley Cole is also unavailable for this match and the question of who will deputise for the left-back was discussed during the press conference. The question is an important one because whoever the left-back at Stamford Bridge is for Chelsea on Sunday, he will be tasked with having to defend the in-form Antonio Valencia. Villas-Boas indicated that either Ryan Bertrand or Jose Bosingwa would deputise:
Villas-Boas further elaborated the unavailability of both Terry and Cole while also acknowledging that United have their own challenges due to the plethora of their players unavailable:
"It is a difficult decision. We have full trust in Ryan's abilities and it is a game of massive importance based on recent results and the fact we are playing the champions at home. The decision will be made when we practice strategically for the game on Saturday."
"We are missing Ashley as well and those are two players are in the top four of most used players so we will have to make the correct decision. But we cannot be crying out when we miss players. Man United will miss important players as well and we have a very big squad which enables to us to approach the game with belief."
Midfielders John Mikel Obi and Ramires have also been ruled out for this match due to a groin and medial ligament injury, respectively. Frank Lampard was initially thought to be unavailable for this match but it appears that the midfielder will have a late fitness test on Saturday during training. Furthermore, both Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou will be unavailable as well due to their current involvement for Ivory Coast in the African Cup of Nations.
Perhaps the absence of Cole at left-back is overstated when considering his difficulties in recent times when trying to deal with whoever was deployed as United's right-winger -- these players include Nani, Valencia, Park Ji-sung, and even Darren Fletcher. Valencia in particular caused Cole to have a shocker in the title-decider last season in May. If Bosingwa is selected at left-back, then that most certainly means Branislav Ivanovic at right-back while David Luiz and Gary Cahill would be the center-back pairing. If Bertrand is selected at left-back, then Villas-Boas actually has choices to make at both right-back and center-back: either Bosingwa or Ivanovic at right-back and two of Ivanovic, Luiz, and Cahill at center-back. I salivate at the thought of the already poor-defending Bosingwa playing out of position and trying to contain Valencia...
In midfield, Oriol Romeu is nearly certain to start in a holding-role. Ahead of him, the recently returned Michael Essien could start, as could Raul Meireles. If Lampard is fit to start, then it's likely Romeu in a holding-role and either Essien or Meireles as the third midfielder. If Villas-Boas elects to shift away from his usual 4-3-3 shape and to a 4-2-3-1 -- a shape he used in the 2nd half versus Swansea at the midweek -- then two of Romeu, Essien, and Meireles could form a 'double-pivot' while Juan Mata could operate as a central-attacking-midfielder in the space behind Fernando Torres.
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Which Chelsea players cause you most worry? Which match-ups for United do you think are most exploitable? Feel free to share in the comments section below.