Embarrassment of riches for Mourinho

CHRIS LAKEY A Champions League match in Portugal next week might, under normal circumstances, have a major bearing on team selection for an FA Cup tie tomorrow.But Chelsea don't operate under normal circumstances and when Jose Mourinho sits down and writes 11 names on a team sheet tomorrow lunch-time there will be no accusations of a "weakened" team.

CHRIS LAKEY

A Champions League match in Portugal next week might, under normal circumstances, have a major bearing on team selection for an FA Cup tie tomorrow.

But Chelsea don't operate under normal circumstances and when Jose Mourinho sits down and writes 11 names on a team sheet tomorrow lunch-time there will be no accusations of a "weakened" team.

The two Coles - Ashley and Joe - won't play because of injury, but after that it's a guessing game, such are the riches at Mourinho's disposal.


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Will Didier Drogba play? Is John Terry a definite starter? What about Shaun Wright-Phillips?

They are questions only "The Chosen One" can answer but, frankly, if he stuck a pin in the piece of paper with all his players' names on it, he'd come up with a decent line-up - even if he played Terry in goal. Again.

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Petr Cech would be a certainty in any line-up in the country, but number two keeper Carlo Cudicini has history with Norwich - he almost single-handedly kept them at bay in a third-round tie in January 2002, doping enough to take the Canaries back to Stamford Bridge for a 4-0 replay mauling which included THAT goal from Gianfranco Zola.

Cech or Cudicini? Close you eyes and take your pick.

Then it gets even harder - in John Terry's absence Mourinho bemoaned Chelsea's defensive frailties, but the England skipper is back, or at least on his way back, and a run-out against Norwich might be just the type of outing he needs before facing Porto. Norwich can't be underestimated, but Mourinho will look at the bare facts - that he won't expect Terry to be pulled left right and centre by the likes of Chris Brown and Darren Huckerby. Ergo, he plays.

Alongside him you're looking at the likes of Wayne Bridge, deputising at left back for Cole and probably playing as well as he has done since he joined Chelsea. Then there's Ricardo Carvalho or Michael Essien or Paulo Ferreira.

Geremi at right back, or Ferreira? The options are there, even if Mourinho hasn't quite got the squad numbers of some of his rivals in the Premiership. But the fact that Essien can play in two or three different roles, and play in them well, suggests Mourinho spots his players well.

Should Geremi take the right back slot, it could be Mr Huckerby he comes face to face with, although the City man would probably relish cutting inside and putting Ferreira's comparatively naive skills to the test. Naïve in Chelsea terms, that is, not Norwich's.

Lee Croft is set to be wide right, in whatever formation City boss Peter Grant chooses, and if he can get any change out of Bridge he will have done well. The former Southampton man is pressing for an England recall and being skinned by a Championship player won't be on his agenda.

It's midfield which looks the most frightening part of Chelsea's team, if only because they have in Frank Lampard a player who has scored 10 Premiership goals this season - only seven fewer than Drogba. Give the England man any freedom within 30 yards of David Marshall's goal and you're asking for trouble.

John Obi Mikel is a candidate to sit alongside him, with Essien likely to be selected in midfield. Michael Ballack is recovering from a thigh strain and, although he hasn't pulled up many trees since his much-publicised move from Bayern Munich, his absence can be counted as a blessing.

Wide right will be Shaun Wright-Phillips, who will need a confidence-boosting display after his recent non-showing for England against Spain. What better way than to try and torment Adam Drury down the Chelsea right? Drury won't match SWP for pace - probably only Huckerby could live with him - but the City skipper has accumulated enough nous in more than a decade as a pro to know the England man's faults: he relies on speed, speed and more speed, but doesn't always match that with the necessary care and control of the football.

Lampard and Obi Mikel don't do speed in the same way: it's more the eye for the pass, the time to create it and the willingness and confidence to execute it. Which is why Youssef Safri, Mark Fotheringham and Dickson Etuhu really will have to be at the top of their game. A moment's lapse and it could be curtains.

Finally, the front line. Drogba and Andrei Shevchenko. Possibly - but hopefully not. Drogba's record speaks for itself, but in case you didn't know, he's scored 17 times in 25 league starts (and has one in one FA Cup start), which makes him the Premiership's top scorer.

Alongside him is likely to be Shevchenko, labelled a misfit by many but scorer of three goals in his last five games. Take a closer look and you'll see those three came in two knockout games. In fact, it's three in 18 league starts, but six in 10 knockout competition games.

If it is Drogba and Shevchenko, then Dion Dublin and Jason Shackell will earn every single penny of their salaries tomorrow afternoon. Dublin has seen all this before, of course, while Shackell is still, to some extent, learning his trade. And nowhere in England will he get a better lesson.

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