Will John Terry's injury ruin Chelsea's chances vs. Paris Saint-Germain?
From a morale point of view, Chelsea's emphatic 5-1 victory over Newcastle United on Saturday evening proved a welcome tonic ahead of a difficult Champions League last-16 first leg at Paris Saint-Germain. Newcastle were woeful, but Chelsea took their chances and interim manager Guus Hiddink used the opportunity to give decent minutes to Baba Rahman, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Bertrand Traore.
All three youngsters acquitted themselves well. Introducing Baba at left-back as a replacement for John Terry midway through the first half when the Chelsea skipper strained a hamstring forced Hiddink to shuffle his defence, shifting Branislav Ivanovic to centre-back to partner with Gary Cahill and switching Cesar Azpilicueta to right-back. A £21.7 million summer signing from Augsburg, Rahman has yet to prove his worth, having failed to get to grips with the rigours of the English game. Given the 21-year-old's lack of experience in Europe's elite competition and the long-term absence of Kurt Zouma, Hiddink will be nervous given Terry's confirmed absence for the trip to Paris.
With fitness concerns over 35-year-old Terry likely to continue, Chelsea are maybe one injury or suspension away from facing a potential defensive crisis right as the fixture list is starting to get busy again. Following the match with PSG, the Blues have a tough FA Cup fifth-round encounter with Manchester City at Stamford Bridge, followed by weekend and midweek away games at Southampton and Norwich City, respectively.
Following the injury to Zouma, Hiddink stated that 20-year old centre-back Matt Miazga, a surprise £3.5 million signing from New York Red Bulls, was not ready to play for Chelsea. Despite being a fully-fledged USA international, Miazga is viewed as a development project along with 18-year old Jake Clarke-Salter, who has been called up to train with the first team in the wake of Zouma's injury.
Beating Newcastle went a long way toward alleviating any nagging fears about Chelsea being sucked into a relegation dogfight, and given that the Blues' only realistic chances of silverware this season are the Champions League and FA Cup, Hiddink might decide to limit Terry's training and restrict his appearances to the cup games.
Had JT been fit to start the first leg of the tie against PSG, it would have been his 700th appearance for Chelsea and as good a time as any for the veteran to put in the type of courageous performance that has seen Blues supporters anoint him "captain, leader, legend." It also would have been a timely opportunity to remind his employers that a contract extension is merited. But that chance has gone, and Hiddink's side face a tougher task getting past Laurent Blanc's team as a result.
Ligue 1 champions for the past three years, PSG are a phenomenal 24 points clear of second-place Monaco in this season's title race and remain unbeaten in all domestic competitions so far this term. Ordinarily, the likes of Angel Di Maria and Zlatan Ibrahimovic would have been relishing the chance to put Chelsea to the sword and gain an unassailable first-leg advantage, but the weekend's events involving first-team regular Serge Aurier have surely damaged the French side's preparations.
Chelsea's myriad problems earlier in the season that led to the dismissal of Jose Mourinho have passed. Hiddink has becalmed the troubled club, and if the Blues' makeshift defence can hold out at the Parc des Princes, in-form striker Diego Costa and sorcerer-in-chief Willian are more than capable between them of concocting a precious away goal that might prove significant.
Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco