Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has much to ponder as he prepares
his side for Saturday's local derby against Fulham at Stamford
His defence is leaking alarmingly in the absence of injured
skipper John Terry, playmaker Joe Cole has a fractured foot and
winger Arjen Robben is struggling to be fit.
Add to that Andriy Shevchenko's failure to recapture the form
that used to grace Milan and stand-in goalkeeper Hilario's unease
and it is easy to see why Mourinho has the blues.
At least he can content himself with the form of Didier Drogba,
without whom Chelsea's bid for a third straight title may have
already perished. Drogba took his league tally to 12 with two goals
in the 2-2 draw with Reading on Tuesday.
Terry may need back surgery and Mourinho could spend some of
owner Roman Abramovich's millions in the January sales. Until
reinforcements arrive his immediate priority is to dig in and keep
leaders Manchester United firmly in his sights.
"To win matches at the moment we have to score three times.
Sometimes you do it, sometimes you don't," Mourinho said of the
defensive woes that have resulted in two goals conceded in each of
their last three league games.
"Especially after we lost (William) Gallas and (Robert) Huth in
the summer. There is not enough cover so at this moment, we have
Chelsea are unlikely to receive much sympathy, such has been
their spending power in recent seasons. Fulham, who have been hit
hard by injuries, would love nothing more than to put another dent
in their glamorous neighbours' title defence.
They beat the champions at home last season and only lost at
Stamford Bridge 3-2 to a late Hernan Crespo strike.
While Mourinho frets, his United counterpart Alex Ferguson has
enjoyed a perfect holiday programme so far with the 3-1 defeat of
Wigan coming after a 3-0 win at Aston Villa.
He even had the luxury of resting Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand
against Wigan. Cristiano Ronaldo came on for the second half,
scoring twice in four minutes to take his league tally to 10.
United now have a four-point lead and are in such free-scoring
form that Reading should pose few problems in their first-ever
league visit to Old Trafford.
Ferguson is too experienced to take anything for granted,
however, against a neat and tidy Reading side managed by Steve
Coppell, a former United favourite.
The earlier meeting this season resulted in a 1-1 draw.
"We didn't expect that (Chelsea's draw with Reading)," he said.
"It just goes to show football can knock you on the head and turn
the tables on you.
"But if we maintain the consistency we've shown over the first
half of the season, we'll have a marvellous chance of winning the
Arsenal are languishing 14 points behind United in third place
but have been on a scoring spree, banging in eight goals in their
two Christmas fixtures so far.
They will need to show plenty of grit as well as flair on
Saturday when they visit a Sheffield United side hovering just
above the relegation zone.
In the absence of injured skipper Thierry Henry, Gilberto Silva
has worn the armband and manager Arsene Wenger is full of praise
for the Brazilian.
"Everybody is realising how important he is for us," said
Wenger. "He is slowly getting the credit he deserves."
Elsewhere on Saturday the battle for Champions League spots
intensifies with fourth-placed Bolton Wanderers taking on
fifth-placed Portsmouth and sixth-placed Liverpool at
seventh-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
(China Daily December 29, 2006)