Andre Villas-Boas has identified Chelsea's long-serving goalkeeper Petr Cech as one of a number of players who would be allowed to leave Stamford Bridge at the end of this season as part of the comprehensive overhaul of the club's ageing squad the Portuguese has planned should he remain in place as manager next summer.
The sequence of five defeats in nine games that has shrouded the 34-year-old's own future in uncertainty has convinced Villas-Boas that, should Roman Abramovich's patience continue to endure, Chelsea's playing resources will require substantial surgery.
The former Porto manager decided last summer to give the current crop a chance to prove their worth but they are not likely to be afforded a second chance.
Some departures have been expected: neither Nicolas Anelka nor Didier Drogba have agreed new contracts, with the former likely to be permitted to leave in January, while the agent of the latter has suggested the Ivorian will "go wherever he is offered the most money".
Similarly, the prospect of Villas-Boas clearing the decks of expensively remunerated fringe players is not surprising, given the club's need to cut costs to comply with Uefa's looming financial fair play guidelines. Alex, Salomon Kalou, Paulo Ferreira and Florent Malouda are all understood to be vulnerable, while it is hardly inconceivable Branislav Ivanovic or Jose Bosingwa might be sold.
That Villas-Boas is prepared to part with Cech, though, is evidence of how deeply the Chelsea manager feels the club's malaise runs and how drastic he believes the solution must be. The Czech international, signed by Claudio Ranieri in February 2004 for £7m, has long been a cornerstone of the club's success.
Though his form has been slightly more erratic since a collision with Stephen Hunt, then of Reading, in October 2006, which left Cech requiring the headguard he has worn since, the 29-year-old is still regarded as one of Europe's finest goalkeepers.
Villas-Boas feels his distribution is lacking when compared to Liverpool's Pepe Reina or Barcelona's Victor Valdes, both highly modern 'sweeper-keepers', whose comfort with the ball at their feet enables the employment of a high defensive line.
The Chelsea manager feels that shortcoming partly explains his side's defensive failings this season and he intends to make Thibaut Courtois, the 19-year-old Belgium international signed from Genk last summer and currently on loan at Atletico Madrid, as his first-choice next season.
However, Villas-Boas is at pains to point out that Chelsea's apparent frailty is not as serious as widely believed. As he stressed, his team have conceded only five more goals than Manchester City. (© Independent News Service)
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