Chelsea could be down to the bare bones for Sunday’s Barclays Premier League clash with Aston Villa after Didier Drogba joined a lengthening injury list.
Drogba suffered suspected knee ligament damage in Chelsea’s 0-0 Champions League draw with CFR Cluj last night, leaving the field on a stretcher and the stadium on crutches with his right leg in a brace.
Manager Luiz Felipe Scolari was already without Deco, Joe Cole, Michael Essien and Ricardo Carvalho.
Ashley Cole sat out with a sore back while John Terry (back) and Alex (buttock) both finished it in pain.
Scolari should get a clearer picture of where he stands over the next 24 hours but Chelsea do not boast an extensive squad and the potential loss of eight key players could be a major problem.
An extended lay-off for Drogba, who was making only his third start after undergoing a knee operation in the summer, would leave Nicolas Anelka as Chelsea’s only fit out-and-out striker.
With Carvalho sidelined for the next fortnight, Scolari will be anxious both Terry, who was holding his back in the closing stages, and Alex recover for the weekend or Chelsea will be out of senior centre-backs.
Scolari is at least optimistic that Ashley Cole will return to face Villa, though the long-term prognosis for Drogba did not look promising.
The Ivorian appeared to jar his right knee as he stretched to reach a cross from Florent Malouda and immediately crumpled to the floor.
The only up-side of a difficult evening in Transylvania was that Chelsea left with a point and not a defeat that could so easily have befallen them.
Cluj are enjoying a dream debut season in the Champions League, with their 2-1 victory at Roma supplemented by a valuable point against the group favourites.
The stands shook as the locals stamped their feet and unfurled a giant image of striker Juan Culio, who scored both goals in Rome, dressed as Dracula and tying a Cluj scarf around Big Ben.
It proved a symbolic image because Chelsea could never shake off the battling, resilient Romanian double-winners.
Terry and Alex were unusually shaky at the back while Mikel John Obi was less than commanding in midfield. If Cluj had had more guile and quality up front they would have claimed a second major European scalp.
Frank Lampard was Chelsea’s brightest spark but he could not unlock the determined Cluj rearguard on his own.
“The result is OK given we didn’t play well,” said Scolari. “It was difficult for us. The players and I know that a point is OK. They beat Roma, they are confident, they’re playing at home, they wanted to show to the people they are very good.
“We knew this and we prepared but we missed one or two times in front of goal. Nil-nil is not a bad result.”