Villas-Boas Weighs up Fernando Torres Recall
Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas will give a clear indication of Fernando Torres's place in his long-term plans when he names his team for Wednesday's Champions League clash against Genk.
Torres has been sidelined for Chelsea's last two Premier League games as a result of his reckless red card against Swansea on September 24, but the ban doesn't affect European ties so the Spanish striker is available for Genk's visit to Stamford Bridge.
Before his dismissal for a two-footed lunge on Mark Gower, Torres had finally started to show a few glimpses of the predatory instincts that persuaded Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich to pay a British record £50 million fee to sign him from Liverpool in January.
Although he missed a sitter against Manchester United, he also scored in that game and then against Swansea.
But just as things were looking up for Torres, his absence has allowed Daniel Sturridge to stake his own claim for a regular place in Villas-Boas's plans with some vibrant goal-scoring displays against Bolton and Everton.
Villas-Boas may be tempted to stick with Sturridge, Didier Drogba and Juan Mata as his front three, but he knows that would be a major snub to Torres at a time when he needs reassurance and, more importantly, time on the pitch.
"If we don't decide on him, it will be a long time out of the game," Villas-Boas said.
"But he has been keeping fit in training and played for Spain.
"It's just a decision we have to make, bearing in mind what we want for the team."
Villas-Boas's side go into the Genk clash in upbeat mood after beating Everton 3-1 on Saturday to close within one point of Manchester United and remain just three behind leaders Manchester City.
Chelsea will be firm favorites to beat the unheralded Belgian outfit, but Villas-Boas warned that his players cannot afford to be complacent with Group E still finely poised.
The Blues won their opening game against Bayer Leverkusen and then drew in Valencia to leave them in pole position in the table, but Villas-Boas knows a slip-up against Genk would throw the group wide open again.
"We cannot allow ourselves to relax against Genk but that is what can happen in a game which everyone expects you to win," he said.
"Our group is still very open so we have to concentrate on taking six points from our next two games against Genk to put us in a good position to qualify for the next round.
"We were 10 minutes away from winning our last game away to Valencia and we let them equalize and now anything can happen in this group."
Genk are currently ninth in the Belgian league, but Villas-Boas insists Chelsea are paying no attention to their opponents' indifferent domestic form.
The 33-year-old former Porto coach is aware of Genk's qualities after coming up against the Belgians in the Europa League and he refuses to underestimate them.
"Their league is not going so well for them and they are still getting used to playing with their new manager," he said.
"But they still have good individual talent and they are a good team. I played them last season with Porto and won 3-0 away and 4-2 at home.
"We cannot take it easy against Genk. We have to focus on the job in hand."
If Chelsea do cruise to victory, they may have to do it without the backing of a full house at Stamford Bridge after fans were urged to boycott the match in protest at the club's ticket prices.
With Abramovich reportedly considering an attempt to move the club to a new larger stadium, it would be rather uncomfortable for the Russian billionaire to see his side once again play against a backdrop of empty seats.