It was far from a good look when Antonio Rudiger, man of a fairly long list of knee problems in his career, had to limp off in the first-half against Liverpool with what looked like yet another significant knee injury.
Thankfully, the problem is not as bad as we had initially gathered from the grim scenes on Merseyside. Assistant manager Gianfranco Zola, taking dentist-bound Sarri's place in the pre-match press conference ahead of our Europa League quarterfinal second leg match against Slavia Prague, was the bringer of good news.
“[The knee injury] looks not as bad as we thought, luckily.When he came off limping, we were worried. Apparently it’s not that bad. He’s a strong boy and he’ll be back sooner than you expect.”
"There is a strong possibility that we see him [against Manchester United in 10 days]. He’s a warrior and won’t want to miss a game like that. The next few days will be very important to see if he can continue recovering. He’s an important player for us.”
Meanwhile, youngster Andreas Christensen, who has not had as many chances to feature this season as last, is expected to get the starting nod. While Rüdiger’s absence will hurt, there is reasonable hope that Christensen will not make his absence felt.
”I saw Antonio improving in many ways – the way he handles the ball, the way he is defending – so he will be missed. But we have already alternated the three defenders many times.”
“When Christensen played with Luiz, he’s done very well. He’s grown so much in security and confidence. [Rüdiger] will be missed, but the ones playing will do well.”
Another player who could be called in to address Rüdiger’s absence is Gary Cahill. The veteran centre back, who technically still holds the captain's armband, has only played seven games all season while being largely absent from squad selections.
Zola does not yet know whether Cahill will be in the mix today, but if he is, it will be the least that his professionalism deserves.
“He’s on the squad list. I still don’t know if he’ll be on the bench – there’s a strong possibility.”
“Gary has been exceptional as a professional, always training very well. I’ll be happy to see him back in the squad.”
”It’s been a tough year for him. A manager came with different ideas, and Rüdiger and David Luiz have been doing so well together. So he found himself in this position.”
“I can only speak very well about him because, to be in this position considering the type of player he is, he’s been behaving perfectly. He has my respect.”
-Gianfranco Zola; Source: football.london
This is Cahill’s last season at the club, as there has been no indication that Chelsea will extend his contract ending in June this year. There mightn not be a better way to see him off than with a trophy. This game will be a chance to take another step towards that goal.