CHELSEA have been dealt another injury blow with Christopher Nkunku struggling with a hip problem.
The French forward, 26, sat out of the 4-0 FA Cup win over Preston at Stamford Bridge.
Armando Broja, Thiago Silva, Raheem Sterling and Enzo Fernandez all struck in the second half to see off the Championship opponents.
Chelsea booked their place in the FA Cup fourth round for the 25th time in 26 seasons as they eye a ninth crown this season.
But when manager Mauricio Pochettino was asked about Nkunku’s surprise absence, he confirmed that Nkunku is struggling with another knock.
Poch said: “He wasn’t involved because he suffered after training a problem in his hip.
“We need to see if he can be ready for the next few games.”
Chelsea face Middlesbrough in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final on Tuesday before a West London derby with Fulham next Saturday.
They then face Boro at home on January 23, will play their FA Cup fourth-round tie the following weekend and then travel to take on Liverpool on January 31.
And now the manager will be sweating to have the attacker back available.
Pochettino is also without a further 11 first-team stars at the moment including long-term absentees Wesley Fofana and Reece James – plus striker Nicolas Jackson who is at Afcon.
Nkunku has endured a hugely frustrating debut season at Chelsea.
That postponed his debut until the Carabao Cup victory against Newcastle, where he came off the bench for the final 21 minutes.
He then appeared in three Premier League games over the festive period, scoring on his first outing in the 2-1 defeat at Wolves on Christmas Eve.
But now he is back on the treatment table in another bitter setback to his Blues career.
Nkunku was brought in to add extra firepower to Chelsea’s attack and a reliable goal threat, having smashed in 58 goals in his last two campaigns at Leipzig.
The ten-cap France international, though, was a big miss in the first half of the season with Jackson and Cole Palmer the top scorers on eight goals each.