• FA says three-match ban 'clearly insufficient'
• Chelsea squad stretched for Brentford FA Cup tie
Eden Hazard faces the prospect of a ban of more than three matches for his altercation with the Swansea City ballboy on Wednesday night to add to Rafael Benítez's worries about the strain on his Chelsea squad.
Hazard was sent off in the team's Capital One Cup semi-final second-leg exit at the Liberty Stadium following his ill-judged attempt to kick the ball from beneath the apparently time-wasting ballboy and he will serve a suspension of three games for violent conduct, which begins on Sunday in the FA Cup fourth-round tie at Brentford.
The FA feels that three matches is "clearly insufficient" punishment for Hazard's offence and they have referred the matter to an independent commission that is empowered to add extra games to the ban. The commission will rule next week, after Chelsea have put forward their submissions; the deadline is Tuesday at 6pm.
Chelsea intend to contest the charge that relates to the potentially heavier suspension and a key part of their defence will be a video clip they say appears to show Hazard making contact with the ball rather than the grounded ballboy, Charlie Morgan, who hurt his ribs in the flashpoint. South Wales police announced they had dropped their investigation into the incident following complaints from the public, saying: "From the outset, our primary concern was for the victim who was spoken to by a police officer in the presence of his father and he does not wish to make any formal complaint. We can confirm there is no longer any police involvement in this matter."
The FA feels that Hazard's behaviour was unacceptable and it would like to see an additional game or games added to the ban but the decision will rest with the commission, who will study the written submissions and video footage from every available angle. There will be no representation in person before the commission from the FA or Chelsea.
It is expected that the commission will add one or two matches to Hazard's suspension, although it does retain the right to disagree with the FA and rule that a three-game punishment is sufficient.
It was notable that the FA said in its statement that it would "remind all clubs of their responsibilities in ensuring ballboys and other personnel around the pitch act in an appropriate manner at all times and will liaise with competitions accordingly", which suggested that it had concerns over Morgan's actions. The 17-year-old visited the Chelsea dressing-room after the game to hear an apology from Hazard and to say sorry for his own part in the affair.
After Brentford, Hazard will miss the league games away to Reading and Newcastle United. Chelsea's following domestic fixtures are against Wigan Athletic at home and then, possibly, a tie in the FA Cup fifth round. Thereafter, they face Manchester City away.
The Hazard issue has compounded Benítez's selection problems. He is effectively working with a squad of 18 senior outfield players, as Oriol Romeu is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. David Luiz is unavailable after damaging his calf at Swansea and with Mikel John Obi and Victor Moses away with Nigeria at the Africa Cup of Nations, and Hazard banned, Benítez will have to name two young players on the bench at Brentford.
The good news is that John Terry has trained and is in contention to make his first start since 11 November, having been undermined by knee trouble, but Benítez is worried about the effect of tiredness on his squad, citing it as a factor in the Swansea cup exit. He mentioned his frustration at being without Romeu and Mikel, the holding midfielders, which placed a greater burden on Ramires and Frank Lampard and left him with little room for manoeuvre.
Benítez's team have played 18 games in all competitions since he took over towards the end of November, never once having a clear midweek or weekend, and they also had to travel to Japan last month for the Club World Cup. The Spaniard said it was fine when his squad had three clear days in between matches but difficult when there were only two, as has regularly been the case. Benitez will rotate his personnel at Brentford but the balancing act is tricky. He would not comment on the possibility of fresh blood in the final days of the transfer window. "The players are a little tired," Benítez said. "We will use different players [at Brentford] but the question is how many, in terms of keeping the level."