Chelsea’s preparations for Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur have been severely disrupted by Gary Cahill spending two nights in hospital with a mystery illness.
It is understood Cahill was admitted to hospital on Tuesday after training and was only released on Thursday, following treatment and tests, putting his participation in the semi-final tie in doubt.
Head coach Antonio Conte will now have to decide whether or not he can risk Cahill against Tottenham, with Kurt Zouma, John Terry, who has confirmed he will leave Chelsea at the end of the season, and Nathan Ake on standby.
Cahill first started to feel ill on Monday, the day after playing in Chelsea’s Premier League defeat to Manchester United in which Conte’s plans had been hit by illness and injury.
Marcos Alonso missed the United game with a stomach bug that Diego Costa and Victor Moses played with, while goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois injured his ankle in a basketball promotional shoot.
Chelsea did not comment on Cahill’s illness, but it is not linked to the bug that went around Alonso, Costa and Moses. He was passed fit enough to train on Tuesday, but was taken to hospital after his temperature rocketed and was kept in to undergo tests.
Whatever the exact problem, Cahill’s illness is the last thing Conte needed as Chelsea look to bounce back against Spurs in a game that could also have a bearing on the Premier League title race.
With only one day of full training left ahead of the semi-final, Conte will now have to assess whether Cahill, who has captained Chelsea for the majority of this season, can face Tottenham with Zouma, Terry and Ake all available.
Zouma started the defeat to United because of Alonso’s absence and also started against Manchester City earlier this month, but was taken off at half-time.
Terry has not made an appearance since the FA Cup victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers in February, while Ake has barely featured since being recalled from his loan at Bournemouth.
Other than a place in the final at stake, Chelsea and Tottenham both have the chance to land a big psychological blow in the title race on Saturday.
Spurs have closed the gap on leaders Chelsea to four points and would put more pressure on Conte and his team by dumping them out of the FA Cup.
But the Blues also have the chance to reassert their authority and the significance of the semi-final has clearly not been lost on Conte, who is said to have cut a serious figure in training this week and has worked hard with his players.
Promotional work has now been put off until the end of the season and Conte has stressed there must be no distractions over the course of the run-in.
While Conte sweats on Cahill, optimism is growing over the possibility of Courtois being fit enough to face Spurs. The Belgian has trained this week and his ankle is being assessed daily.