Chelsea fear Fernando Torres's one-match ban could be extended by more than three games after he appeared to scratch Tottenham Hotspur defender Jan Vertonghen in the face at the weekend.
The Premier League club are irritated that they still have not been notified by the Football Association as to whether Torres will be charged with violent conduct. In theory, the FA has until 6pm tonight to announce the decision of its three-man panel of former -referees under what is supposed to be a new fast-track approach for dealing with such extraordinary incidents.
That means Torres could be informed that he will face a charge less than two hours before the kick-off of Chelsea's crucial Cham-pions League tie away against Steaua Bucharest tonight. Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said at the weekend that he had not decided whether Torres would start this evening but his decision could be affected by a charge, especially with a player whose confidence can often be fragile.
If Torres misses three matches, in addition to the one he receives for his red card, he will be absent for Chelsea's league games against Norwich City away, Cardiff City at home, Manchester City at home and the away match against Newcastle United. Given the striker is also unlikely to be selected by Spain for the forthcoming internationals it means that the only match Torres will be eligible to play in over the next five weeks will be Chelsea's next -Champions League tie, away against Schalke. That will be all the more galling for Torres, and Mourinho, as he showed his best Chelsea form during the 1-1 draw against Spurs before his dismissal last Saturday.
With Demba Ba and Samuel Eto'o Chelsea's only other senior strikers, and with neither having scored so far this season, it will be a further strain on the squad. Yesterday, Frank Lampard insisted that Chelsea would cope if Torres's ban was extended. "We have two other strikers, top strikers, and we've spoken about top competition at the club," the midfielder said.
"If it happens, people will have to step up." The FA spent yesterday deciding how to proceed given the highprofile nature of the case and the likely close scrutiny of the new system. Evidence was being collected from the match -officials at White Hart Lane, led by referee Mike Dean. All the available video footage is also being gathered. Torres was sent off during the match after the Spaniard received two yellow cards, the first of which appeared to be for a trip on Vertonghen. However, Dean seemed to have missed Torres then grabbing the defender's face.
A three-match ban, if Torres is charged, would be expected but the panel could deem the case to be exceptional, as happened with Luiz Suarez's punishment for biting Chel-sea defender Branislav Ivanovic and Eden Hazard's clash with a ball boy at Swansea City last season. Mourinho will be annoyed by the continued disruption especially as the Portuguese voiced his anger at the possibility of Torres being charged at the weekend.
Mourinho went even further by suggesting that Vertonghen should be charged instead for feigning injury in the incident that led to Torres's second caution. Mourinho's irritation with the FA could partly explain his tetchy behaviour in the press conference that preceded today's encounter, especially as the Chelsea manager might feel he is finally starting to get the best out of Torres.