Avram Grant fears Chelsea will be hit hard as they start life without their African stars in Tuesday's League Cup semi-final against Everton. Grant will be missing Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou and Michael Essien for the first-leg clash at Stamford Bridge after they joined up with their countries ahead of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations.
With Petr Cech, John Terry and Frank Lampard already sidelined through injury, Grant must be cursing the timing of the tournament that threatens to disrupt his team's season. Even a club of Chelsea's resources could easily be severely affected by so many key absences, and Grant is keeping his fingers crossed that they can muddle through until mid-February when he should have most of his stars back.
The Blues' scrappy FA Cup win over QPR on Saturday will hardly have encouraged Grant to keep faith with his understudies. At least he will be heartened by Ricardo Carvalho's return from suspension and he is still hoping John Obi Mikel will be available because the Nigerian Football Association have already given Everton permission to play Ayegbeni Yakubu and Joseph Yobo.
"If the Nigerian players play for Everton, they will for us," Grant said. "It will not be one club and not the other. I don't think Drogba will be available for us, I think he will go to his national team.
"The squad is short and there is a lot of pressure. Last week Michael Ballack played 70, 70 and 90 minutes and Joe Cole played a lot of games so we tried to play them only for a short time on Saturday. It's important the other players in the squad play.
"It shows the strength of squad we have because many teams would have failed to perform without so many important players. But we continued to fight until the end of every game and that has made me proud of the staff and the players.
"I have been pleased with the way Andriy Shevchenko and Salomon Kalou have played since we lost Didier to injury. Both of them have shown how to score vital goals and lead this team with desire and quality," Grant added.
Grant knows reinforcements are essential to keep Chelsea in the hunt for all four major honours. Nicolas Anelka looks likely to join from Bolton Wanderers soon, while Valencia striker David Villa and Lokomotiv Moscow defender Branislav Ivanovic are also reported to be on the Israeli's shopping list.
"Because of all the injuries we are thinking about everything," Grant said. "We didn't want to change so much because we have a good squad but we have unexpected injuries and the African Cup.
"There is no news at the moment. I will not speak about any players until it is finished but there is a lot of speculation at the moment."
The importance of Tuesday's match to Everton was clear to see as David Moyes rested several first-teamers for Saturday's shock FA Cup defeat against Oldham Athletic. That embarrassing loss will be forgotten if Moyes' side can get past Chelsea to reach their first major final since 1995, when they won the FA Cup.
But Everton will have to do it without Steven Pienaar after the South Africa midfielder's plea to delay his departure to the African Nations was rejected.