Saturday 14 December 2019

Courtois blow adds to Conte's week of woe

Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Photo: Simon Cooper/PA Wire
Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Photo: Simon Cooper/PA Wire newsdesk

Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has added to Antonio Conte's growing list of problems by sustaining an ankle injury that is expected to rule him out of the trip to Brighton today.

Midfielder Danny Drinkwater is also struggling to be fit, which means Conte could be without six senior players as Chelsea seek their first Premier League victory of 2018. Ross Barkley is set to take his place on the substitutes' bench, but the Chelsea manager admits he has been forced to rethink his game plan after losing Alvaro Morata and Pedro to suspension, and Cesc Fabregas, Gary Cahill, and, potentially Courtois and Drinkwater, to injury.

Even Chelsea's attempts to boost their squad in the transfer market have been hit by injury, as Andy Carroll's ankle problem appears to have ruled him out of making a surprise move to Stamford Bridge. That has forced the club to consider a striker who would not even be eligible for the Champions League, Roma's Edin Dzeko, while interest in Christian Benteke or Peter Crouch could be revisited.

There may at least be better news on the horizon in terms of easing the burden on Marcos Alonso, with another Roma player, left-back Emerson Palmieri, keen to join Chelsea.

Asked whether or not he was confident Chelsea would sign the players he wants, Conte replied: "Confident? Confident is a big word. We have to wait. I give my opinion to my club, but, as I said before, the final decision is for the club. I have to wait and see what happens in this transfer market. But I repeat: I'm very calm on this aspect, also because I enjoy working with my players in the right way, and I'm very happy with their commitment. Then, if the club wants to help us, we're happy. Otherwise we'll continue trying to improve as a team and bring satisfaction to our fans."

Having appeared to be in a straight fight for second spot with Manchester United, Chelsea now look the most vulnerable of the clubs currently occupying the league's top-four places.

"We have a great motivation, to try to finish in the final four," said Conte. "It won't be easy. I want to be very clear: we are in January, and it will be very difficult - not only for us, but also the other teams. It will be a big fight, a big war.

"We must be optimistic. There are four months to play. Good targets. We are in the semi-final of the Carabao Cup with the possibility of reaching the final, the fourth round of the FA Cup, the Champions League, and we're fighting for a Champions League place in the league."

Pedro cannot face Brighton after being sent off against Norwich in the FA Cup for two bookable offences, the first of which was for diving. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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