Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti has given four players permission to leave early for the African Nations Cup at the end of the month. It means Ivory Coast strikers Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou plus Nigerian midfielder John Mikel Obi and Ghana's Michael Essien will miss five club games in January, including their FA Cup third round tie against Watford at Stamford Bridge.
The African Nations Cup runs from January 10-31 but Ancelotti is happy for the quartet to leave early and join their respective pre-tournament training camps.
The Italian is happy for Ghana to send over their doctor to examine the injured Essien and the Blues coach insists the player should be fit in time to leave on December 28.
"The African players can all go on December 28," confirmed Ancelotti. "Michael had a scan and I think he will be out for between three and four weeks.
"The aim is to work to improve his injury but I think he will be ready to go on December 28, if he stays well.
"I have no problem with the Ghana doctor coming here. If they want to come here to see Essien, there is no problem."
If their respective nations stay in the tournament until the end, the quartet will miss the cup-tie with Watford plus away league games at Hull and Burnley and two home matches against Sunderland and Birmingham.