Didier Drogba is set to start for the first time in six weeks with the Chelsea manager, Luiz Felipe Scolari, ringing the changes for the visit of Burnley in the Carling Cup tonight. Drogba has not started a game since picking up a knee injury against CFR Cluj in the Champions League on 1 October and has been forced to watch Nicolas Anelka seize his chance to become the club's main goalscorer.
Anelka has scored 11 goals so far this season but may be rested or moved out to the flanks to accommodate Drogba against Burnley. "Hopefully Didier faces quite a fight to get back into the side because that's what being at a big club is all about," said Chelsea's assistant coach Ray Wilkins yesterday. "Didier trained very well yesterday and today so he's back in the squad. That's very pleasant from our situation.
"We do have Nicolas in fantastic form, so with Didier breathing down his neck to have a game it is lovely. I am sure there is a very healthy rivalry between the two guys as to who will score the most goals and I do think they can play together. At the moment Felipe is managing to get the best out of Nic. The player has worked extremely hard to get himself in this situation so we must give him a lot of respect for what he's done.
"I think Nic has had a few arms round the shoulder from Felipe, a few chats and he's been told just exactly what's required of him. There are a lot of players you have to treat differently. It is a skill of the manager to select the right people and to get the right response from them. Nic has different attributes to Didier. His pace can take him beyond defenders in a flash. If you were to blend the two of them together you would have the best striker in world football.
"We've done exceptionally well over the last couple of years in the Carling Cup," Wilkins added, "and the boys have been to Felipe and expressed the fact they don't want to be left out and want to play in every game. That is an extremely positive attitude to take and I am delighted because it shows there is this winning mentality in the club."
Chelsea will still be without England midfielder Joe Cole and the game will come too early for Michael Ballack. "We are going to have to wait and see on Joe," Wilkins added. "He has got a couple of little niggles that he has been carrying for a couple of weeks. Michael Ballack has joined the group and is doing very well. He is back in the fold but the weekend is more likely for him."
Wilkins said Chelsea would not be treating their Championship opponents lightly as they attempted to reach the quarter-finals. "We have prepared for Burnley as we would for a Premier League side," he said. "It is important for us. We must pay them the utmost respect and impose our Premier League status on them when they come and play. It will be up to us to make sure they do most of the defending."
The Burnley manager, Owen Coyle, is aiming to dump Chelsea out of the competition then after the game ask Scolari the secrets of his success. For Coyle crossing swords with the World Cup winner is another notable step in the former Bolton striker's managerial education. Coyle and his players won the respect of the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, after the Gunners edged a hard-fought FA Cup encounter at Turf Moor last season. Coyle said: "I felt privileged when Arsène Wenger was here and to stand in the opposite dugout to a World Cup winner will be another privilege. Hopefully I can learn and I will certainly be looking to pick his brains after the game when we sit down for a chat.
"For my own personal development it's tremendous and obviously I am looking to continue that, so I'll cream what I can off him to try to make me and this football club better."
Coyle has won many admirers since taking over at Burnley 12 months ago and his commitment to attractive, passing football has made the dour, sterile style under predecessor Steve Cotterill a distant memory.
Players such as Robbie Blake, Martin Paterson and Chris Eagles have given the Clarets a significant attacking threat, and Coyle admits his players can only benefit from the experience of playing Chelsea.
He said: "They're so fluent and they've got pace and strength – everything you'd ask of an individual, and as a team, they have it. But as a player I wanted to play against the very best players and go to the best arenas and stadiums, and Wednesday provides that. There is a big financial outlay from our fans, so it's important that we, as a group, show our appreciation to those coming down to London. We can do that by performing to our maximum and hopefully giving them something to shout about."