Villas-Boas says Chelsea are stuck in the middle with few

Andre Villas-Boas has admitted Chelsea's resources could be stretched this season, ahead of his side's opener today against Stoke.

The Londoners have already lost two midfielders before the start of this season, with Yury Zhirkov returning to Russia and Michael Essien ruled out for six months with a knee problem. The man signed to fill the void, Oriol Romeu, is still on international duty with Spain at the Under-20 World Cup and may not be available for selection until next month.

Chelsea have also made two attempts to prise Luka Modric from Tottenham, so far without success. And although Villas-Boas is happy with his squad going into his first competitive game in charge, he acknowledged resources could easily become stretched. "We are struggling with numbers in midfield," he said.

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Today's game is likely to see Chelsea line up with a three-man midfield of Frank Lampard, Ramires and John Obi Mikel, with Josh McEachran as back-up.

Villas-Boas revealed he would also consider asking Yossi Benayoun or Florent Malouda to play more centrally if necessary. "It's good enough for us that the people we have can play in those positions - we have a lot of versatility in midfield," he said.

"Florent Malouda and Yossi can play No.8 or No.10, and that gives us flexibility. That's why we're happy with the squad running into the Stoke game. All have been playing at a high level."

While Chelsea may have a shortage of midfielders, the impending arrival of 18-year-old Romelu Lukaku from Anderlecht would give them a surplus of strikers. That is where Villas-Boas' first big selection dilemma lies, with one of Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres likely to be left on the bench.

Stoke will begin the season with the same aim they have had at the start of the previous three - to stay in the top flight. Last season saw them attain a comfortable 13th-placed finish and a superb run to the FA Cup final, which brought with it European football.

But boss Tony Pulis remained restrained. He said: "I think we have to be a little bit careful. The expectation levels go through the roof.

"(The fans] understand that our priority is to stay in the Premier League - that will always be the case."