LONDON — Maurizio Sarri said that mounting injuries have left Chelsea “in trouble” after Olivier Giroud suffered suspected ankle ligament damage during Sunday’s 1-0 win over Crystal Palace.
Giroud left the field on crutches in the 76th minute after being injured by a James Tomkins tackle, while scoring an offside goal. Chelsea held onto the lead given to them by N’Golo Kante’s earlier strike to move five points clear of fifth-placed Arsenal.
Sarri was forced to leave Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Cesc Fabregas, Pedro and Callum Hudson-Odoi out of his squad for the game due to injury, and may now be without Giroud for several weeks with Chelsea’s workload showing no sign of easing in a busy January.
“The problem is his ankle,” Chelsea boss Sarri said of Giroud. “I don’t know the severity. We have to wait for [Monday]. I think that, later in the evening, I will see the doctor for the first results, but I think the real result will only be known [on Monday].
“In the last few days we were a but unlucky. Yesterday [Saturday], in 10 minutes we had three injuries — Fabregas, [Loftus-Cheek] and [Danny] Drinkwater — then Giroud, and we were already without Pedro and [Hudson-Odoi].
“We are in trouble because, in January, we have to play every three days. Fabregas has a neck problem. The injury was in the last five minutes of training, so I’m not sure whether he has to rest for two or 10 days. I will have a meeting with the doctor this evening.”
Chelsea laboured for long spells against a disciplined but relatively unambitious Palace side, hitting the post twice in the first half from Willian’s curling free kick and Ross Barkley’s overhead kick from a corner. Eden Hazard, restored to the left wing with Giroud leading the line, struggled to make an impact.
“I think that we played a very good match for 85 minutes,” Sarri said. “We were in full control of the match. But we didn’t kill the match and so, for us, it’s very difficult to defend in the box in the last five minutes.
“We haven’t had very good physical impact, so we are in trouble in the box. But for 85 minutes we were in full control without conceding anything to the opponents.
“I didn’t like only that we weren’t able to kill off the match before. Better in the second half, I think, because in the first half we did everything very well but too slowly. In the second half, for 40 minutes, we moved the ball better.”
The breakthrough came when Kante ran onto a David Luiz through ball and hit a low shot that squirmed under Palace goalkeeper Vicente Guaita. It was the midfielder’s third league goal of the season — the most he has ever managed in a single top-flight campaign.
“He is improving, especially in his movement without the ball,” Sarri said of Kante. “Today the movement was really very good and done with the right timing. It’s very important for us when we have to play against opponents very low, where the strikers and wingers find it hard to find space.
“It’s about the movement of the midfielders. We have to work on [Loftus-Cheek] and Barkley on this. [Loftus-Cheek], especially, is a very great player with the ball, but he can improve a lot in his movement without the ball.”