Alexandre Pato has slipped behind Bertrand Traore in the Chelsea pecking order, interim manager Guus Hiddink has said.
Diego Costa is still the clear first-choice striker for the Blues but the Spain international could be rested over the next couple of Barclays Premier League games with one eye on the return leg of Chelsea’s Champions League tie against Paris St Germain on March 9.
The reigning Premier League champions have turned a corner under Hiddink and sit 11th in the table, with a trip to Norwich and a home game with Stoke to come before they look to overturn a 2-1 deficit against PSG.
Costa may be given a chance to recharge his batteries in one of those contests, which leaves Hiddink considering his other options, and he feels Traore has progressed well and now looks to be ahead of both Pato and Loic Remy in his thinking.
Pato, 26, has been short of fitness having joined on loan from Corinthians in January, having not played competitively since November.
“He’s eager, we have now healthy competition going on with the strikers, in a very good atmosphere,” Hiddink said ahead of Tuesday’s visit to Carrow Road.
“Diego is the number one. The other ones have stepped up, especially I’m happy with the progress of Traore.
“Although he’s a young guy and the others might have more status I’m not just looking at that – I’m looking to the young guys making progress.”
Despite Traore seemingly leapfrogging Pato in the pecking order, Hiddink could be ready to put the Brazil international on the bench for the game at Norwich, while fellow loanee Radamel Falcao remains out with a groin problem.
Asked if Pato was ready to play, Hiddink said: “Not ready for 90, but he is now coming into the last stage where he is able to play part of the game.
“Once more I underline 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, yeah they’re a bit ahead. I like fair competition, in all fairness amongst themselves.
“Falcao is now touching the grass, in treatment but also on the pitch. Not with the group, but individually training.”
Hiddink also promised more game time for Ruben Loftus-Cheek before the end of the campaign as he refused to be drawn on the ongoing speculation Chelsea are close to announcing Antonio Conte as their next permanent boss.
Captain John Terry remains sidelined for the game as he looks to recover from a hamstring issue in time to face PSG, with Pedro joining Terry, Falcao and Kurt Zouma as the confirmed absentees.