CHELSEA  felt Cesc Fabregas’ absence against Hull City on Saturday but Jose Mourinho would not be caught admitting as much.
His response to the suggestion is difficult to transcribe. “We never miss the players that don’t play,” he said. “We miss, but we don’t miss, do you understand? We miss, but we don’t miss. We miss, but we say we don’t miss!”
Mourinho seemingly meant that his team can be missing players in the simple sense that they are not available, but will not bemoan their unavailability, or use it as an excuse. “Our philosophy is not to speak about the ones that are not playing. John Obi Mikel did well, Nemanja Matic did well, Oscar did well. Fabregas did nothing,” he joked.
Starting Mikel in the Spaniard’s place seemed a remarkably cautious decision against Hull, who have now won one in 15, and sure enough, much of the game became a midfield scrap. Chelsea did not have their usual fluency despite Eden Hazard’s early goal, and Hull were quite content to stay in the game by helping to ensure no rhythm was established.
The problem is there is not an obvious alternative. Ramires might have offered more impetus going forward but is not the kind of thoughtful passer of the ball who might have smoothed Chelsea’s build-up play out. Beyond him there are the teenagers Lewis Baker and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, neither of whom have ever played a Premier League game.
One hundred miles up the road, Manchester City called on a man of rather more experience against Leicester. Frank Lampard’s winning goal was his 175th in the division, drawing him level with Thierry Henry, and keeps the defending champions in touch with a side many were labelling the champions-elect as early as September.
If not having the ideal backup central midfielder is top of your list of problems, things are pretty good, but for a number of different reasons it will frustrate Mourinho to see Lampard make such an impact with a rival.
The manager himself seemed to hope to renew the contracts of Lampard, John Terry and Ashley Cole at the end of last season. Various reports suggested powers above Mourinho were holding back on offering those players anything more than performance-related, one-year deals, and they can count themselves extremely fortunate that Terry accepted without too much fuss. He has been the Premier League’s best central defender and you sense it will not take them until May to extend his contract this time.