Villas-Boas admits lack of midfield depth
Andre Villas-Boas has admitted Chelsea could be left short of cover in midfield if injury strikes Frank Lampard again this season. Lampard was sidelined for three and a half months last term, his absence coinciding with the Blues' worst run in the Premier League for almost 15 years.
The England star returned to help them go close to completing the greatest comeback in Premier League history, but they ultimately came up short and finished the campaign empty-handed. Chelsea have already lost two midfielders before the start of this season, with Yury Zhirkov returning to Russia and Michael Essien ruled out for six months with a serious knee problem.
The man signed to fill the void, Oriol Romeu, is still on international duty with Spain at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia and may not be available for selection until next month. Chelsea have also made two attempts to prise Luka Modric from Tottenham but so far without success.
And although Villas-Boas is happy with his squad going into his first competitive game in charge against Stoke tomorrow, he acknowledged resources could easily become stretched. "We are struggling with numbers in midfield," he said. "We have Oriol still away at the U-20 World Cup. He'll return late in August, so numbers are short."
Tomorrow's game is likely to see Chelsea line up with a three-man midfield of Lampard, Ramires and John Obi Mikel, with Josh McEachran as back-up. Villas-Boas revealed he would also consider asking Yossi Benayoun or Florent Malouda to play more centrally if necessary.
"It's good enough for us that the people we have can play in those positions - we have a lot of versatility in midfield," he said. "Florent Malouda and Yossi can play number eight or number ten, and that gives us flexibility. That's why we're happy with the squad running into the Stoke game. All have been playing at a high level. In midfield, everyone has been performing well."
While Chelsea may have a shortage of midfielders, the impending arrival of 18-year-old Romelu Lukaku from Anderlecht would give them a surplus of strikers. That is where Villas-Boas' first big selection dilemma lies, with one of Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres likely to be left on the bench tomorrow.
Drogba is favourite to start, having impressed in pre-season, with the Ivorian also seeming better suited to Stoke's physical game. Daniel Sturridge would almost certainly have lined up on the right side of attack in a 4-3-3 but for a three-match ban picked up in his final game on loan at Bolton last season. Chelsea were unable to challenge the suspension because the right of appeal belongs to the club a player was performing for at the time.
Villas-Boas questioned that, saying: "It could be in the interest of that club not to appeal because they know that player is going to return to his mother club. It was a nasty incident so we respect the three-match ban being applied, and we can't do anything about it. But Daniel has been showing good levels in pre-season. He won't be there for the next three games, and we have to accept that."
Lukaku, meanwhile, had still not been officially confirmed as a Chelsea player this afternoon. "We're outlining details," said Villas-Boas before explaining why the Blues had finally pounced for a player with whom they have long been linked. "Lukaku is one of those players we couldn't afford to lose because of his potential. That's why we made a move in the market, although our team is competitive and competent enough in that sector. Bearing in mind what he's been doing for the last couple of years at Anderlecht, we couldn't let this boy escape."