CHELSEA boss Jose Mourinho will gamble with the fitness of star turn Diego Costa after confirming the goalscoring sensation will lead his side’s line against Sporting Lisbon in their Champions League Group G clash tonight.
The Blues drew their opening European fixture of the season 1-1 against Schalke at Stamford Bridge, with the benched Costa only replacing veteran battering ram Drogba in the latter stages as Chelsea searched in vain for a winner.
Ivorian Drogba has not travelled to Portugal after aggravating an ankle injury in training and is set to be sidelined for two weeks, which had led to a minor striking crisis with France forward Loic Remy the club’s only other senior attacking option.
While concerns persist over Costa’s ongoing hamstring problems, with him previously limited to one game a week, Mourinho is prepared to roll the dice for a player who is of paramount importance to the Chelsea cause, having notched his eighth Premier League goal of the season on Saturday.
“There is a risk,” said Mourinho. “We assume the risk. Hopefully everything goes well and hopefully from Tuesday to Sunday he has enough period of time to be back on track and to play against Arsenal.
“It’s an important game for us, a difficult game and if I can play my best players and the team I think is the best team to try to get the best result, I’m not going to make any change.
“I don’t rest people. I make decisions. I don’t think about Arsenal, I think about Sporting and I’m going to start with the team that I think is the best team.”
Mourinho’s immediate priority is masterminding a plan to derail Sporting’s 16-game unbeaten European run on home soil, which includes 13 wins and dates back to Brondby’s victory during the 2010/11 Europa League play-offs.
Sporting kicked off their first Champions League campaign since 2008 with an uninspiring draw in Maribor, ensuring the group is wide open with all four sides locked on a solitary point.
While victory on his return to Lisbon – Mourinho was assistant to Sir Bobby Robson while Sporting manager in the early nineties – would provide an immediate remedy, the fitness of £32m Costa is never too far from the forefront of the Portuguese’s mind.
And the former Real Madrid man appears on a collision course with the Spanish national team over Costa, with Euro 2016 qualifiers in Slovakia and Luxembourg lurking.
“I have the feeling that next week he goes to the national team,” added Mourinho. “I have the feeling that in the national team they will not consider the fact that he is in trouble so tonight he plays.”
STATS AND FACTS ON CHELSEA’S OPPONENTS
SPORTING NO SOFT TOUCH AT HOME
The 2013/14 Portuguese runners-up are embarking on their sixth Champions League group stage campaign and their first since 2008/09 when Sporting reached the last 16 for the first time. They are the proud holders of a long unbeaten European home record, stretching back 16 matches, which includes 13 wins and three draws, since Danish outfit Brondby claimed a 2-0 win during the 2010/11 Europe League play-offs.
MOURINHO’S LISBON BACKSTORY
Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho was assistant to then Sporting boss Sir Bobby Robson for a season and a half between 1992 and 1993. In his own managerial career which has included spells with Benfica, UD Leiria and Porto, Mourinho is yet to lose to Sporting having posted four wins and two draws.
A FAMILIAR FACE IN THE RIVAL CAMP
Portuguese winger Nani returned to his boyhood club in the summer as a makeweight in the deal to take defender Marcos Rojo to Old Trafford after failing to convince new Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal. The 27-year-old scored three times in 13 matches against Chelsea while playing in England.
ENGLISH OPPO HAVE FALLEN BEFORE
Sporting boast an impressive record against English opposition on home turf, winning their last three clashes against Manchester City, Everton and Bolton without conceding a goal. Their only defeat in nine fixtures came against Manchester United during the group stage in 2007 when Cristiano Ronaldo haunted his former employers during Sporting’s only previous Champions League encounter with a Premier League side.