Drogba: Blues to battle through injuries
Carvalho loss another blow but striker insists best is yet to come from Chelsea
The usual analogy for the league championship is that it is a marathon, not a sprint. This year the Aintree Grand National may be a better comparison because as the leading trio approach the final hurdles there are casualties strewn across the course.
Arsenal and Manchester United have been beset by injuries and now it appears Chelsea's turn with Ricardo Carvalho the latest to pull up lame. The Portuguese defender will be out for at least four weeks after suffering ankle ligament damage in Wednesday's 5-0 victory at Portsmouth.
He joins fellow defenders Ashley Cole, Jose Bosingwa and Branislav Ivanovic on the injury list, plus Michael Essien. However, Didier Drogba believes he should be fit to play Aston Villa tomorrow despite limping away from the fray at Fratton Park.
"I hurt my knee when I was stepped on but while it's painful I think it's going to be all right," he said. Drogba added: "It's difficult when you are playing so many games for all the team to be on top of our shape and fitness. Now we have a lot of injuries, especially to our defensive line. We're going to miss Ricardo, Ivanovic, Ashley, Bosingwa, so many. But I think we are doing a great season even without our players."
Wednesday's win lifted the mood at the club following their Champions League exit and subsequent failure to hold on to a winning position at Blackburn Rovers at the weekend. Drogba accepted that the team had not been at its best but said he believed Chelsea were still very much in the title race, even though it was "difficult". He said: "We have had a lot of criticism from people, and that's fair because we haven't played at our level. Even at Blackburn we had only one good half. So it was important to win on Wednesday.
"I don't know why we have struggled. You have difficult moments in a season and ours has come at the wrong time. Now we have to rush and we have no time to think. We have to win games. We have to win them all if we want to win the title.
"We had a good advantage but we lost it and have to chase Manchester United. I have to believe that we will still win the title. When United were behind us they believed they could come back. When we won at Arsenal, Arsène Wenger said they were still in for the title and he was right. So we have to believe the same and you never know what will happen. It is frustrating that we have let them back into it but we have to get over that."
The clock is always ticking for a 32-year-old centre-forward but Drogba insisted that this season is not the last hurrah, either for him or Chelsea's other 30-somethings. The Ivorian said he himself was proof that footballers did not go immediately into decline when they entered their fourth decade and noted: "I had a difficult season last year, and I came back."
Chelsea may have experienced a blip but with 10 goals in the last eight league games, and five in the last three, their leading scorer has continued to worry Premier League defences.
"I'm really happy with my goals," he said. "I wanted to show that I'm still around because a lot of things have been said. People didn't appreciate that the knee problem I had meant I could only play at 50 per cent. Now, thank God, I am fit and I'm enjoying myself again.
"Considering that I'm not taking penalties, and have missed a few games, it's the best season I've had; but it would be a poor season if I finish top scorer and we don't win a trophy. Football is a team sport.
"This season has been so long and so difficult that I prefer to win the league. To do that, it's important we beat Aston Villa so we can go to Old Trafford (next Saturday) with a lot of confidence."
There was good news for Chelsea when the English Football Association said Daniel Sturridge would not be punished for the clash which broke the nose of Portsmouth's Tommy Smith on Wednesday, and Florent Malouda would receive no further sanction for the collision which left Ricardo Rocha with a suspected fractured cheekbone. Both incidents were deemed to have been dealt with by referee Lee Mason at the time.