Chelsea set to battle familiar faces
With Chelsea travelling to the north-west to take on Everton on Saturday evening, the Londoners' buildup has focussed largely on their strikers, both past and present.
The news that seeped into the Twittersphere on Wednesday evening revealing that Diego Costa had suffered a hamstring injury while training at Cobham has thrown a real spanner in the works, just as Chelsea appeared to have solved a key problem area of the team. Two goals in as many games for the Spain international has seen hopes soar among Blues supporters that they might just have the striker that they have craved for so long -- one who might fire them back to the top of English football. To somewhat borrow from Sir Isaac Newton's third law of motion, the potential long-term loss of Costa could have equal and opposite consequences for manager Jose Mourinho's ambitions.
Before too much doom and gloom sets in, it must be emphasised that as yet there has been no confirmation as to the extent of the injury, though even a benign diagnosis would surely keep him out of contention for the clash at Goodison Park. Although it is clearly the biggest test of the nascent campaign so far, it would be far too much of a risk for him to feature with any kind of hamstring problem given the often fragile nature of the muscle and the tendency for such issues to reoccur if not given ample time to heal. Chelsea will have to take on the Toffees without their star man.
Another player who is unlikely to take the field is Fernando Torres with his prospective move to AC Milan nearing completion. There are several rumours swirling around regarding the deal and the figures involved. His representatives are said to have had a productive meeting with the Italian club, and the Spaniard's departure from Stamford Bridge now looks to be a case of when rather than if. Even if the transfer has not been concluded by the time the game kicks off, if talks are still ongoing, there would be little desire from any of the parties involved for Torres to take part and risk incurring an injury that would muddy the waters.
Instead, filling the breach will be Didier Drogba, returning to a ground where he scored one his most eye-catching strikes when he swivelled about 25 yards from goal before smashing a volley over Tim Howard and into the back of the net to seal a 3-2 win in December 2006. Eight years later, King Didier might not be quite the force that he was but he will still prove to be a handful for the Everton centre backs. What Chelsea will lack, however, is the relentless running into the channels and constant closing down of the opposing defenders; assets that are all part and parcel of Costa's DNA but are not necessarily the hallmark of a hitman in his dotage.
Looking on and grinning at Chelsea's potentially parlous striking situation will be old boys Romelu Lukaku and Samuel Eto'o. Although Lukaku is struggling with a toe injury, he will be desperate to play against his former club and show them that they were wrong in not allowing him to lead their attack. The irony is that in the current circumstances, had Lukaku stayed, he would almost certainly have started for his former employers against his current ones. Unfortunately, he apparently decided that fighting for a place in the side was beneath him and chose to move to Everton instead, which is his prerogative but highlights a rather short-term outlook. That is not to say he will not punish Chelsea. Against Arsenal last weekend he was a constant menace and carved open the Gunners' defence to create his team's second goal. His substitution on 76 minutes preceded Arsenal's comeback, and although it might not have been the only reason for the concession of a two-goal advantage, it does show the huge benefit to Everton with him in the side.
Making his debut for Everton on Saturday could be Eto'o, fresh from signing a two-year deal on Merseyside after failing to secure new terms at Chelsea. The Cameroon veteran has buried the hatchet with Mourinho after their falling out over the latter's humorous, if indiscreet comments about his age. Eto'o's remarks about his disappointment at being released by the Londoners, however, suggest he will have a definite point to prove.
The striking balance and the motivation, as well as recent form in this fixture appear to be siding with the hosts. However, that would overlook the improvement throughout Chelsea's team since they last met at Goodison Park in a 1-0 defeat last September. Backbone and skill has been added to Chelsea's midfield in the form of Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas, while Andre Schurrle's ever-increasing contribution to the squad provides another strong to the visitor's bow. It promises to be an even and keenly fought contest, but should Chelsea win it without Costa in their ranks, it would make quite a statement and allay a few fears.
Phil is one of ESPN's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilLythell.