The top four heavyweights in the Premier League are all immense forces it has to be said, but they are most tested when without their talisman. Look at Liverpool without Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, and how Arsenal have at times struggled without Robin Van Persie against Sunderland and Burnley. The African Cup of Nations sees yawning holes in the heart of Chelsea’s squad. John Obi Mikel (Nigeria), Michael Essien (Ghana), Solamon Kalou and Didier Drogba (both Ivory Coast) will all be representing their respective countries in Angola next week for up to a month.
Not even manager Carlo Ancelotti could argue that Chelsea do not look lightweight up front without Drogba. The gangly Ivorian has come up with some moments of inspired genius this season, particularly his skilful team goal against Bolton Wanderers. Ancelotti seems to have Nicolas Anelka and striker partner Drogba interacting better on the pitch in a communication and footballing sense. The likes of Luis Filipe Scolari and Guus Hiddink struggled to help the two compliment eachother, but this season, particularly against lower teams, both players have been devastating.
It remains to be seen how the Londoners will cope without Kalou and Drogba. I am sure most Chelsea fans would admit their team was in trouble if Anelka suffered an injury. Chelsea do have an abundance of young talent to call upon if the worst does come to the worst however. Daniel Sturridge was impressive against Watford in the FA Cup last weekend. His first goal was a knock on at the far post from a scuffed John Terry effort and his second an all together more skilful finish. The former Manchester City striker received the ball just outside the six yard box, steadied the ball on the side of his boot under pressure, before calmly slotting home with the outside of his left boot with the confidence and arrogance of Drogba.
Chelsea’s following can take heart from the recent performances of 20 year old Sturridge as the likes of Fabio Borini and Gael Kakuta are even less experienced. But the question is can Sturridge lead the line and lift his team like Drogba can? Playing at Chelsea, Sturridge has a lot of responsibility. Over the next few months, his goals or miscues could prove the different between titles. He has only played against far inferior opposition such as Watford, Sunderland and Bolton so far. It is a tough learning curve for an English striker of his age at such a huge club. Sturridge is yet to experience consistent first team football anywhere, so can he be relied on in the absence of Chelsea’s big guns?
By missing players such as Essien and Drogba in particular, Chelsea must change the way they play drastically. Without Essien, the back four is not as protected and counter attacks may be a little harder to fashion. Anelka and Sturridge may not hassle defenders for possession as much as Drogba either. Apart from Frank Lamapard, Joe Cole and Anelka, Chelsea have few constant goal threats in their team for the next four weeks. Chelsea have to play Hull, Sunderland, Preston North End, Birmingham City and Burnley in the next few so the African Cup of Nations could have arguably not come at a better time, but Chelsea are clearly now without key players. Manchester United have no players on International duty and defenders to return from injury, so they will be hoping for plenty of upsets this month. Chelsea’s 7th February fixture at home to Arsenal straight after the African Cup of Nations looks a huge game and Chelsea next realistic test, but will it be before convincing wins or lacklustre draws?
If you’re a Chelsea fan, tell us your views on the next few weeks without Drogba. Maybe you are going to be signing reinforcements like David Villa? Would Ancelotti spend the money when he knows his players will be back in four weeks? Have you seen the youngsters for the reserves? Maybe you saw Sturridge score a hat-trick against Ipswich’s reserves in September? Or are these youngsters going to be even better than Drogba? We want to hear your opinion.