Chelsea are resigned to surrendering the battle for Premier League glory, despite facing Liverpool in the weekend’s key fixture.
On paper Sunday’s visit to Anfield looks like a title-decider, but Jose Mourinho’s eyes are on the European prize after Tuesday night’s tactically astute draw against Atletico Madrid.
The loss of key players Petr Cech (dislocated shoulder) and John Terry (ankle sprain) in Madrid has forced the Blues gaffer to make a stark choice between domestic success or Champions League glory.
He has plumped for Europe as it only involves two matches. Winning the Premier League demands maximum points from three games… and other results going his way.
So a rather unconventional Blues team will line up against the Reds, with Demba Ba likely to start up front and 20-year-old Czech full back Tomas Kalas handed a league debut.
Frank Lampard, John Obi Mikel, Nemanja Matic and Mohamed Salah will start, as they are either suspended or cup-tied for Wednesday night’s floodlit second leg against Atletico at Stamford Bridge, while Marco van Ginkel and Nathan Ake will warm the bench.
Jose is wavering about who should wear the green jersey at Anfield, and is talking to goalkeeping mentor Christophe Lollichon about whether to give 41-year-old Mark Schwarzer more playing time ahead of Wednesday, or save him and use 38-year-old Henrique Hilario… or 6ft 5in 20-year-old debutant Jamal Blackman.
Chelsea’s tactics for the Champions League second leg will mirror the approach to the Madrid game – shutting out Atletico, even if leads to a bizarre penalty shoot-out with two Blues keepers vying for glory, as Thibaut Courtois is technically a Chelsea player.
Schwarzer, his zimmer frame propped up nearby, is busy practising saving spot-kicks.
Though rusty in the Blues’ surprise home defeat to Sunderland, and even struggling to keep his footing in a series of wayward goal kicks, Schwarzer’s confidence was given a boost by the clean sheet in Madrid.