Chelsea manager Graham Potter has admitted he is still unclear whether £107 million signing Enzo Fernandez will be able to make his debut against Fulham on Friday.
The 22-year-old Argentine completed his British-record move from Benfica to at Stamford Bridge on deadline day and having the option to bring in the World Cup-winning midfielder would boost a Chelsea midfield currently missing Mateo Kovacic, N'Golo Kante and Denis Zakaria through injury.
However, in his pre-match press conference, Potter admitted Fernandez is not currently cleared to play but refused to rule him out completely,
“We'll see,” Potter said of Fernandez's possible involvement at home to their West London rivals on Friday. “We've got to go through the paperwork and get the clearance and all that.”
Chelsea signed eight players in total in January, bringing new owner Todd Boehly’s spending spree since taking over last summer to more than £550m.
And Potter must decide by 11pm on Thursday which three of those he will include in his Champions League squad. The former Brighton coach admitted there will be “awkward conversations” to be had, with problems over selection from his bloated squad inevitably spilling over into the club’s Premier League campaign, with 33 first-team players on the books.
“Challenge is the right word,” said Potter. “I’m certainly not complaining about it. It’s exciting. It’s a test for me, of course, and for the staff, but it’s an exciting one.
“We’ve got a lot of really good players. We have to create an environment where there’s healthy competition and they can push each other, but at the same time understand that there’s going to be frustration at times, because only 11 can play. That’s how it is.
“We’ve got a lot of important games, and we need to improve our results. It’s about playing, about supporting the team and being ready to play.”
Potter’s first test will come when he submits his selection for the Champions League knockout stages. Players are allowed to have featured for another side in Europe during the season, meaning Fernandez and fellow new signing Joao Felix are eligible for inclusion. Chelsea play Borussia Dortmund in the last-16 first leg on February 15.
“We’re aware of who we need to speak to,” Potter added. “There’s going to be a few awkward conversations. That’s the reality of where we are. Only 11 can play, only a certain amount can be in the squad.
“There’s always going to be players who are disappointed. It’s about being as honest, open, respectful and transparent as you can.
“You have to create an environment where you respect the fact that people want to play and compete and help the team, but they have to be patient.
“If you spend money, the external noise goes up. I understand that.
Fulham 2 Chelsea 1: Player ratings
“I’ve always said resources is one thing, spending money is one thing, but you need to be able to align them, you need to be able to make the right decisions, you need to be able to provide a culture, a team, an environment.
“It’s not the amount you spend that gets success. It’s more than that.”
Fulham, meanwhile, managed to sign midfielder Sasa Lukic from Torino and Cedric Soares on loan from Arsenal until the end of the season on deadline day.
“It was a busy last day for us as a football club, I know you [the media] like it, but we don’t like it so much as a football club,” said manager Marco Silva, whose team defeated Chelsea at Craven Cottage last month.
“But it’s part of the year and part of the market, it’s not easy to do even if we would like to have the players early because it is always better for us with a busy January and a lot of games as well.
“Cedric knows the football club and has played in the Premier League already and has a lot of knowledge that will help us for sure.
“Lukic is another mature player as well in a good age, another quality player who will give something different for us and create competition. I think both of them will raise the level of our team.”