Can Didier Drogba still justify his Chelsea place?

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Chelsea fans have been afforded a luxury they thought would never come at the start of this season, the chance to see Didier Drogba lead the line at Stamford Bridge again and evoke memories of eight seasons full of utter torment for Premier League defenders.

Drogba has been handed a £3 million deal by Blues boss Jose Mourinho with a view to providing experienced, reliable cover for Diego Costa when required this season.

Mourinho obviously shares a special relationship with Drogba dating back to his first successful spell as Chelsea manager, fair enough.

The 36-year-old was terrible in his first start of the season against Schalke on Wednesday night though, which means its perfectly reasonable to ask if the Ivory Coast's greatest export is still capable of making any impact on the pitch this season?

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Mourinho's first mistake of the season?

It seems a strange call from Mourinho to pick Drogba over Loic Remy for the Schalke game in midweek, one made with a sentimental streak that wasn't afforded to the likes of Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard or even Juan Mata in recent times.

Mourinho will argue that Drogba needed the game time and that he had no choice but to rest Costa's troublesome hamstrings, but the living Chelsea legend was well off the pace throughout and even spurned a sitter with the goal at his mercy to cap an inauspicious return.

There are mitigating circumstances to consider before condemning Drogba to the scrapheap of course. Firstly the 36-year-old was still recovering from an ankle injury when picked to start against Schalke, with just 17 minutes of football under his belt thanks to a hugely disrupted pre-season.

Costa setting high standards to the say the least

Costa's outrageous start to life in West London probably didn't help either, the Brazilian setting standards that probably only a prime Drogba could match with a return of seven goals in four Premier League games.

Once fully fit Drogba will be extremely confident he can still offer Chelsea an assured touch in the final third, although his game time will largely depend on if Costa can stand up to the rigours of playing three times a week at the business end of the campaign.

We are talking about one of the Premier League's greatest ever centre-forwards here, a man who scored 157 goals for Chelsea and never failed to find double figures in any full season during his first spell at the club.

Mourinho clearly convinced a born leader still deserves place

Even in recent times Drogba's goal return for Galatasaray was more than passable. A haul of 10 goals in 24 in Turkish top flight is certainly not to be sniffed at, even if compared to an English game which is almost like a game played on another planet in terms of pace and power.

Mourinho came up against Drogba during his final season as Real Madrid manager during the Champions League knockout stages, with the second leg seeing Drogba turn back the block with a vintage display that included an outrageous goal flicked in with the forward's back heel.

That performance must have strengthened Mourinho's view that Drogba can still turn it on when Chelsea need him most, after all the physically imposing presence has always been a man for the big occasion.

Tough question to answer over first-team relevance

In an honestly though it could be a decision that comes back to haunt Mourinho late in the campaign though.

Costa is top dog and clearly Mourinho didn't want to sign a forward that could potentially jeopardise that stance, even if the 25-year-old has been troubled by niggling injury problems over the last six months and must be a huge fitness concern long-term.

Remy will ease that burden but can't dominate the penalty area like Costa or Drogba, with the French forward more of a pacy option, stretching teams to the full and creating angles that bring midfield options into play.

Drogba has to fall below Remy in the pecking order for one primary reason, his imposing style looks very much against the odds with a brilliant array of playmakers Chelsea now possess as a supporting cast behind the lone striker.

Even Drogba himself can identify problem

Chelsea's Champions League winner admitted after the Schalke game that he was struggling to develop an understanding with Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas, pleading for more time to get his 'diesel engine' finely tuned.

Here's exactly what Drogba said: “I’m like a diesel — I need time.

“For the first game, my legs were okay. The good thing is I had no pain in the ankle and I can start working, training and improving my condition.

“Eden and Cesc are good players. I still need time to understand their game. They bring a lot to the team, their pace and vision is amazing.

“We are always going to create chances so that is why we have to defend well as a team and hope for those players to create assists or score a goal.”

He's picked a lovely simile to explain his lack of match fitness but Chelsea can't afford any passengers this season, even if they are arguably the best forward ever to play for the club.

No excuses not to win the title

Mourinho simply has to deliver a trophy this season or the current cosy love-in he's enjoying on his return won't last longer than another nine months.

That means his Chelsea players must be capable of delivering the goods with no excuses, can Drogba honestly say he's still got what it takes for example to start at the Etihad this Sunday against Manchester City and take Vincent Kompany to task.

Let's hope a rare show of emotion in terms of recruitment from Mourinho doesn't take anything away from Drogba's amazing legacy at Stamford Bridge, because that's a very real possibility if this season turns sour.

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