Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho will acutely feel the absence of Didier Drogba this weekend as the Ivory Coast striker looks to guide his country to African Nations Cup glory.
The Portuguese coach will have just two senior strikers available for the trip to Aston Villa tonight after England Under-21 international Carlton Cole was ruled out with the groin injury he collected in the final moments of Saturday’s FA Cup draw at Everton.
Drogba faces club-mate Geremi in the African Nations Cup quarter-finals in Egypt on Saturday when the Ivory Coast take on Cameroon for a place in the last four.
Mourinho’s side have lacked a cutting edge in attack since Drogba took up his international duty and with Chelsea facing a Merseyside double-header inside the space of four days, they could certainly do with the 27-year-old returning sooner rather than later.
He would again be sorely missed should the Ivorians still be glory-chasing when Chelsea face Everton in their FA Cup fourth-round replay next Wednesday.
Mourinho will rely on Hernan Crespo and fit-again Eidur Gudjohnsen at Villa Park, where Chelsea have not won since 1999.
Gudjohnsen is over the illness which forced him to miss the Everton match and is almost certain to be on the bench as the spare striker, instead of starting the game in his now familiar midfield role.
Chelsea’s new loan signing Maniche is set for his second start, with Michael Essien still struggling to regain full fitness following the ankle ligament damage he suffered against West Ham at the beginning of the year.
Meanwhile, England midfielder Joe Cole wants to improve his goal return as Chelsea look to continue their charge towards a second successive Barclays Premiership title.
The 24-year-old is determined to show that off-the-field episodes have not affected his focus on the pitch.
Cole was involved in a fight in the early hours of the morning after Chelsea’s third-round FA Cup win over Huddersfield at the start of January, and also reportedly received threatening letters delivered to the club’s training ground.
Cole, however, is determined to continue the progress he has made since becoming a regular in coach Jose Mourinho’s side, and that means hitting the net more frequently, starting with tonight’s match.
“I have been a regular in the Chelsea side for the last 12 months or so and shown my worth to the team,” said Cole.
“Yet football is a fickle game and I know things can change quickly. People want to see you do the business every week.
“The whole team need to keep on top of things and we want to keep a nice cushion at the top of the table.
“You can never rest on your laurels because the standards are so high at Chelsea and you need to be at your best every game you play in.
“One of the areas I would like to improve is my goalscoring. I scored between five and seven goals a season when I was at West Ham.
“I’m not like Frank Lampard who can shoot from 30 yards. I need to get the ball a bit close to goal. Even so, I’ll be working my hardest to get that goal ratio up.”