Terry facing a lengthy lay-off as Alex is ruled out for at least six weeks
Chelsea were last night facing a severe defensive crisis, with Alex ruled out for "six to eight weeks" on the day that John Terry suggested he may have to take a prolonged break from football, possibly lasting months, to recover from a chronic nerve problem in his right leg.
The injuries mean that the Premier League champions are now likely to make a move in the January transfer window, with Benfica's David Luiz understood to be manager Carlo Ancelotti's No 1 target.
Sources last night suggested that there was a "good chance" that the 23- year-old would be signed, although Chelsea will have to commit upwards of £20m to secure the Brazilian.
Manchester City have also been interested in Luiz, whom Chelsea attempted to sign when they acquired fellow Brazilian Ramires in the summer.
At that time Benfica were adamant that Luiz, a rising star of Brazilian football, would not be sold. However, the situation is believed to have changed since then, with Benfica understood to be ready to cash in to rebuild next summer.
Whether Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich wants to commit to a major transfer deal now remains to be seen. However, given the lack of options, his hand might be forced.
Ancelotti disastrously fielded Paulo Ferreira in central defence in the 3-0 home defeat to Sunderland at the weekend and there are understandable concerns over whether Jeffrey Bruma, who is still just 19, can cope.
A cheaper alternative to Luiz would be the 28-year-old France international Philippe Mexes, who is out of contract at Roma next summer and has been considered by Chelsea in the past, or they might simply recall Michael Mancienne in January from his season-long loan with Wolves.
The loss of Alex is a major blow. He has missed Chelsea's past two games with pain in his right knee, but has now withdrawn from the Brazil squad to face Argentina in Qatar today to undergo arthroscopic surgery to investigate what the problem is. He is expected to be out for up to eight weeks.
Terry revealed yesterday that he feared he might be sidelined for months -- although Chelsea are insisting his leg problem will be assessed on a game-by-game basis as he attempts to overcome a problem that has plagued him all season.
England manager Fabio Capello backed Terry's decision to stop playing. "I think the decision of John Terry is really good, because I know that he played all the games (for Chelsea this season) with injections. Every game."
Capello said Terry's announcement revealed why he had not played for England.
"Now you understand why he never played with us for four games," he said. "Every time he suffered the problem with his leg. He cannot play with England with injections. He didn't play at the World Cup with injections, no. He never played when injured. Never."
However, Chelsea challenged Capello's claim that Terry had undergone a series of injections, but confirmed that the player did have an epidural procedure last Thursday to try to alleviate the pain.
This, however, was not successful, ruling him out of last Sunday's match, and yesterday Terry was at the club's training ground to discuss with the medical team what forms of treatment he should now pursue.
Chelsea are adamant that the problem is not linked to Terry's back and are hopeful that he may return far sooner that he has suggested, ruling him out only for this weekend's game for now.
Terry underwent surgery in December 2006 to remove a disc from the lumbar region and although such difficulties are often related to the kind of sciatica nerve pain Terry is feeling at present, the club maintain that the current damage is not linked.
The Chelsea captain, who has consulted various specialists, said: "I'm at my wit's end. I know I won't play against Birmingham, but beyond that there are no clues. It could be weeks, it could be months. It is at a point where I cannot carry on with it."
Should Terry be ruled out it for an extended spell as feared, it would be another major blow for Chelsea, who have already been without fellow England international Frank Lampard for most of the season.
Lampard is set to miss at least another two weeks after suffering an abductor muscle injury in training, while Michael Essien still has two games to run on his suspension after receiving a straight red card against Fulham.
Meanwhile, Stephen Ireland's future at Aston Villa looks even bleaker after Gerard Houllier yesterday agreed terms with former Arsenal midifelder Robert Pires.
The 37 year-old, available on a free contract after leaving Spanish side Villarreal at the end of last season, will join Villa on a short-term contract to lend experience to a youthful side and provide cover for the club's numerous midfield injuries.
Houllier was persuaded that Pires still has something to offer by Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger, under whom Pires won two Premier League titles and the FA Cup on three occasions, and with whom he has been training.
Pires' last Premier League appearance was in 2006. If he plays, he will be the second oldest outfield player in the league after Birmingham City's Kevin Phillips, also 37. (© Daily Telegraph, London)