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Alexandre Pato could make his long-awaited debut for Chelsea during their Premier League trip to Norwich City on 1 March. The Brazilian striker arrived at Stamford Bridge from Corinthians in January on a loan deal until the end of the season, but has yet to make a single appearance for his new club due to a lack of fitness that stems from not having played any competitive football since November.
Guus Hiddink confirmed earlier this month that this was essentially a 'pre-season' for Pato and that Chelsea, who retain an option to sign him on a permanent basis this summer, had devised an individual fitness programme that often involves the 26-year-old training twice a day in a bid to quickly regain his sharpness. The fruits of that labour may be observed at Carrow Road this week, although any involvement is likely to come as a late substitute.
Providing an update on his condition during a pre-match press conference, Hiddink was quoted as saying by ITV: "Not ready for 90 [minutes], but he is now coming into the last stage where he is able to play part of the game.
"Once more I underline that we consider also the chances for the young guys. Let's hope so in the near future, we have games coming up. At the moment to be fair to everyone and the youngsters, they're a bit ahead. I like fair competition amongst themselves."
Chelsea will be without Pedro for the meeting with lowly Norwich after the Spaniard was substituted just seven minutes into the 2-1 victory over Southampton with hamstring trouble. Captain John Terry is not yet quite ready to feature, while Kurt Zouma is less than four weeks into his recovery from an anterior cruciate ligament injury that required surgery and is expected to keep him sidelined for a period of six months.
Radamel Falcao is Hiddink's other long-term absentee. The Monaco loanee has not played at all since sustaining a thigh injury in October and even saw a potentially premature return to his parent club scuppered last month due to concerns he would be out for another six to eight weeks. Supporters could be forgiven for assuming that the Colombian was unlikely to play for Chelsea again, but it appears he is now stepping up his return bid.
"Falcao is now touching the grass, in treatment but also on the pitch. Not with the group, but individually training."
Chelsea face a crucial Champions League last-16 second-leg encounter at home to Paris Saint-Germain on 9 March. Trailing 2-1 from the first encounter at the Parc des Princes, Hiddink will need his key players in prime condition and has hinted that Diego Costa could be rested either for the match against Norwich or the clash with Stoke City four days later. Loic Remy would be expected to carry the load instead, although the manager declared himself "especially happy" with the progress of youngster Bertrand Traore.