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Villa set to test Chelsea strength in depth

SoccerNews in English Premier League 4 Oct 2008


Luiz Felipe Scolari might have been tempted to Chelsea by the promise of untold riches, but the Brazilian is beginning to realise that even Stamford Bridge’s vast resources can be stretched.

The west Londoners enter Sunday’s encounter with Aston Villa shorn of four first team regulars.

Didier Drogba, Deco, Ricardo Carvalho and Michael Essien are all definitely ruled out of the meeting with Martin O’Neill’s fast improving team and a host of others, including defensive totem John Terry, are carrying knocks.

With his options having been further reduced by the summer departures of Andriy Shevchenko, Claudio Pizarro, Tal Ben Haim and Shaun Wright-Phillips, Scolari’s squad now looks worryingly thin, despite their fabulous wealth.

It is a scenario which promises to test the manager’s ingenuity, as much as his tactical nous, as he seeks to make light of the absence of players who have been integral to making Chelsea one of the continent’s most feared and respected sides in the last four years. Not that the man himself is complaining about his depleted numbers.

“To have 23 or 24 players is very good for one squad,” he said. “How can a coach work with 34 players? It is incredible. When I arrived here there were 34 players and I have never wanted to work with that many – 23, 24 or 25 maximum.

“I don’t know what will happen in January. Maybe I will have two or three more injuries. Maybe some teams want my players, but I don’t think about January. I am satisfied with my players and I am not afraid because I believe in them.”

Scolari is choosing to look on the bright side of his current ‘crisis’ and his prospects brightened after Drogba’s knee injury, which iniitially appeared serious, was revealed to be nothing graver than a tweaked medial knee ligament which will rule him out for a month.

“I am religious,” Scolari said. “I prayed for this and sometimes God helps me!”

Even so, Scolari could have done with Drogba’s unique blend of muscle and striking prowess against Villa. The west midlanders are quickly establishing themselves as the most credible challengers to the English Premier League’s ‘big four’: they are third in the table after winning four of their opening six matches and have glided serenely into the UEFA Cup group stage.

The visitors’ flying start makes their visit to Stamford Bridge – where Chelsea are unbeaten in 85 league matches – all the more intriguing and Scolari admits they cannot be underestimated.

“I appreciate Martin’s job and his team,” Scolari added. “I think he is a very, very good coach. All the teams he has trained play well and I like his style – he fights for his team.

“I asked players about him and they had good words. It will be a pleasure to say to him afterwards that I like him and his style. They have been fantastic, they have one less point than us so it is a big game. We respect them.”

Villa’s ability to develop from also-rans to genuine Champions League qualification contenders will be tested by the next six weeks, when they face Arsenal and Manchester United, as well as Chelsea. But it says everything about the confidence O’Neill has instilled in his charges that Villa are treating such aspirations as more than just a mere pipe dream.

“We know, with the way we’re playing, that we can hurt the big teams,” Stilyian Petrov, the Bulgarian midfielder, said.

“We’ve had a great start to the season. We were working so hard last season to achieve that UEFA Cup spot and now we’ve also started very well in the league. If we win at Chelsea we could be top of the league so you can’t ask for better.”


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