LONDON: Danny Drinkwater can build on his midweek Chelsea debut when Antonio Conte’s side travels to face Bournemouth in the Premier League on Saturday (Sunday in Manila).
Drinkwater has endured a frustrating time since joining the Stamford Bridge club in the final moments of the transfer window following a £35 million ($46 million, 40 million euros) move from Leicester.
The England international has struggled with a calf problem and was finally given the all clear to make his first appearance for his new club in the midweek League Cup win against Everton.
The midfielder managed 62 minutes before being withdrawn, and while the best he can hope for is a place on the champions’ bench against the Cherries, the 27-year-old is simply relieved to have got his Chelsea career up and running at last.
“I don’t think the last few months could have gone any worse,” Drinkwater told Chelsea TV. “I have been trying to take the positives out of it. My calf feels good now but I was massively frustrated. The waiting game was killing me.
“It’s been good to watch the team and it has helped me to settle in as well. It has given me a feel for how they actually play. But the sooner I can get more involved now, the better for me.”
Drinkwater’s return to fitness comes as a boost to Chelsea manager Conte, who has seen N’Golo Kante sidelined with a hamstring injury while Tiemoue Bakayoko has also struggled with injuries.
The Blues head to the south coast lifted by last weekend’s victory over Watford that came after Conte’s side had been trailing to the Hornets and were apparently on course for another home defeat.
Batshuayi on the rise
But instead of being forced to endure a fresh inquest into his side’s failings, Conte was able to reflect on an impressive display of character that was capped by a two-goal match-winning performance from Michy Batshuayi.
The Belgian started against Everton but is expected to return to the bench for the meeting with Eddie Howe’s team — who will also be Chelsea’s opponents in the quarter-finals of the League Cup.
Italian boss Conte, though, has seen enough in the forward’s recent outings to suggest Batshuayi is now ready to shoulder more responsibility.
“Last season was difficult for him but it was also difficult for me,” Conte said. “Now he’s ready to start and come out and during the game and have a good impact.
“Sometimes if I decide to play with two strikers, maybe I don’t know, but it’s important to know I can count on him,” the manager added.
Like Drinkwater, Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson got a rare opportunity to impress midweek when he scored on his first start in nine months during the 3-1 League Cup defeat of Middlesbrough.
Wilson has suffered two serious knee injuries that have stalled his progress in recent seasons and is now anxious to return to Premier League action.
“When you have been injured, you hope for a goal on your return and, thankfully, I got that,” he said.
“First and foremost, I am back playing well, getting through games successfully and putting myself in the manager’s mind for selection in the Premier League.
“It’s about getting back to focusing on the league and, on a personal note, trying to get back into that team.”
Wilson added: “I don’t just want to play in cup matches, I want to work hard and open my Premier League account for the season.”