Jose Mourinho was a no-show for Chelsea's press conference ahead of their match against Sunderland, as assistant Steve Holland answered questions from the reporters assembled at the club.
Chelsea's official YouTube channel posted part of the pre-match presser online:
Most questions obviously focused on the looming fixture against league-leaders Liverpool in one week's time, but Holland also commented on the schedule as a whole, as the Blues will have to play Liverpool just days after taking on Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals, per Chelsea's official Twitter account:
Holland: 'Atletico play tonight, Real Madrid aren't playing at all. I'm sure they appreciate the help their federation has given them.' #CFC— Chelsea FC (@chelseafc) April 18, 2014
Such help isn't given to British clubs by the FA, as Chelsea are looking at one of the toughest stretches of matches the team will face all season. With such important fixtures ahead, correctly managing a team becomes crucial:
Holland says we will have to find the right balance in team selection ahead of such a busy period. #CFC— Chelsea FC (@chelseafc) April 18, 2014
Of course, the pressure of such a busy schedule comes with the territory of being a top club, something Holland understands all too well:
Holland: 'The objection for this club is to be competing for major honours at the business end of the season. Thankfully we are.' #CFC— Chelsea FC (@chelseafc) April 18, 2014
As shared by the Press Association's Dugout, Chelsea are hopeful a contract agreement with John Terry will be reached very soon:
John Terry will hopefully complete terms on a new Chelsea contract in the next fortnight, assistant coach Steve Holland has said. #CFC— PA Dugout (@PA_dugout) April 18, 2014
Holland reminded everyone that the primary focus would have to be on Sunderland, though:
Holland says the full focus is on Sunderland tomorrow and putting out a team that will win the game. #CFC— Chelsea FC (@chelseafc) April 18, 2014
He even went as far as to say the title won't be decided by the team's match against Liverpool:
Holland: 'This game tomorrow is of huge importance. I don't believe the title will be decided by our match with Liverpool.' #CFC— Chelsea FC (@chelseafc) April 18, 2014
Holland's emphasis on the match against Sunderland is understandable, of course: It was only less than a week ago the Black Cats drew with Manchester City, severely damaging the Citizens' title bid.
Liverpool's Brendan Rodgers echoed a very similar sentiment during his pre-match talk with the press on Thursday, as shared by The Liverpool Echo's James Pearce:
Rodgers: "The Man City v Sunderland result was a warning sign to everyone that nothing is guaranteed. You have to do your own job."— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) April 17, 2014
With everyone looking at the big clash between the top two teams in Liverpool and Chelsea, and with the latter's Champions League fixture against Atletico, it would be easy to lose sight of the fact there are other games to be played as well.
Any loss of points against Sunderland would be disastrous at this stage of the competition, and the Black Cats showed against City they are more than capable of hanging with the bigger clubs. It comes as no surprise Holland thinks Saturday's match won't be an easy one:
Holland: 'Tomorrow will be a very difficult game that we have to approach in a very professional manner.' #CFC— Chelsea FC (@chelseafc) April 18, 2014
ESPN's Miguel Delaney shared Holland's comments on the availability of star midfielder Eden Hazard:
Holland: Hazard "not definitely out" for Tuesday but a "major doubt".— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) April 18, 2014
The Belgian left the pitch early in Chelsea's win over Paris Saint-Germain and has been one of the team's most in-from players all season. Gary Lineker couldn't argue with his place on the list of nominees for the Player of the Year award:
Can't argue with the #PFA player of the year nominations. Congratulations to Messrs Gerrard, Suarez, Hazard, Sturridge, Lallana and Toure.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) April 18, 2014
Holland said the player hasn't trained with the squad, placing his availability for the matches against Atletico and Liverpool in major doubt and effectively ruling him out of the tie against Sunderland:
Holland: 'Hazard is not definitely out for Tuesday but he hasn't trained with the squad yet which means he's a major doubt.' #CFC— Chelsea FC (@chelseafc) April 18, 2014
Chelsea have a number of talented players to man their midfield, but Hazard's combination of both playing decisive passes and off-the-ball intelligence is fairly unique in the entire English Premier League.
Hazard has 16 goals and seven assists this season, per WhoScored.com, and Squawka shared exactly how much of the player's game comes down to creativity:
E.Hazard has created more EPL chances (87) this season than Liverpool duo D.Sturridge & R.Sterling combined (67). pic.twitter.com/UfrxDavvdR— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 18, 2014
Making up for such a large amount of chances created is almost impossible for any player, so Chelsea must hope the Belgian international will make his way back onto the pitch in time for the semi-final fixture against Atletico.
Without him, strikers Samuel Eto'o and Fernando Torres will be forced to rely less on the input of the team's midfielders and create more chances of their own, something they've yet to do all season. Against Sunderland this might work, but such a scenario would spell trouble against Liverpool's more talented defenders.