LONDON, November 20 – The international break may not have been kind to Chelsea but Carlo Ancelotti could hardly have wished for a better fixture than the visit of Wolves to ease his injury-weakened side back into league action.Ancelotti’s medical team have been working overtime after Frank Lampard, John Terry, Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack all returned from their latest stint of national service carrying injuries.
Terry and Lampard were affected by the wave of injuries that afflicted Fabio Capello’s England squad last week with Lampard expected to be out for three weeks with a torn thigh muscle while club captain Terry faces a late test on an ankle problem.
German international Ballack has an infected knee while Ivorian Drogba is carrying a knock but even even if he were to lose all those senior players for this game, it is impossible to imagine the manager is overly concerned about the impact on his squad as a whole.
Wolves, after all, are enduring a troubled season and currently sit second-bottom of the Premier League while Ancelotti’s side signed off before the break with the victory over Manchester United that left them five points clear at the head of the table.
The task now facing Chelsea is to make sure they avoid any unnecessary slip-ups that would give United and second-placed Arsenal an opportunity to close the gap.
Yet while Ancelotti’s side have occasionally appeared vulnerable on their travels this season, at Stamford Bridge they have posted a perfect record of ten wins from their ten home games.
The Italian is understandably satisfied with the start to his first season at the club and said this week: "I’m quite happy here in London, I have a three-year contract, I like everything here, the club, the fans, English football.
"Not to speak of the results, so far they are not that bad: I’ve won 10 out of 12 in the league, three out of four in the Champions League, it’s an awesome progression. I do not have the slightest problem, not even with the food."
The only problem looming on Chelsea’s horizon is January’s African Cup of Nations, when they will lose Drogba and Salomon Kalou to the Ivory Coast, Ghana’s Michael Essien and John Mikel Obi of Nigeria.
That is not the problem it once seemed, though, now that the club have succeeded in getting the FIFA-imposed transfer ban suspended for January when they may make a renewed bid to bring in Atletico Madrid’s Argentine striker Sergio Aguero.
It is a very different story for Wolves who have not won in six games and last defeated Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in March 1979.
A repeat of the 5-2 defeat they suffered on their previous visit six years ago would further dent the confidence of the struggling Midlands club.
Before the international break, Wolves were given a humiliating 4-1 lesson by Arsenal in front of their own supporters, but manager Mick McCarthy insists fixtures against the clubs at the top end of the table will not decide his Premier League fate this season.
"Everyone will see we got our backsides slapped by Arsenal and that we are second from bottom. They will be expecting us to get another good hiding from Chelsea, but games like this won’t decide whether we survive or not," he said.
Facing the formidable league leaders is the preface to a key run of three games against Birmingham, Bolton and a trip to face Burnley.
"Our survival will be decided on those games and others against clubs in that bracket.
"Our next two games against Birmingham and Bolton are the ones that we have to win. No one expects us to get anything at Chelsea. Go to the bookies and see the odds on us winning or getting a draw!" said McCarthy.
"We still have to give a good account of ourselves. If we get something it would be brilliant and a real bonus."