Football: Chelsea told to put foot down

LONDON, Jan 29, 2010 (AFP) - Chelsea captain John Terry believes the Londoners are ready to put their foot down in the Premier League title race.

Recent weeks have seen Carlo Ancelotti's squad regain the momentum that deserted them as they stumbled their way through December.

An ominously efficient 3-0 win over Birmingham in mid-week lifted Chelsea back to the the top of the Premier League table and Terry sees this weekend as an opportunity to apply an additional bit of pressure on rivals Manchester United and Arsenal.

Chelsea midfielder Michael Ballack during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Birmingham City at Stamford Bridge in London, England on January 27, 2010. AFP PHOTO

With Arsenal hosting champions United at The Emirates on Sunday it is inevitable that one or both clubs will drop points, making it imperative that Chelsea emerge unscathed from Saturday's trip to Burnley, who slipped into the relegation zone after losing to Bolton in mid-week.

"Manchester United lost at Burnley and Arsenal could only draw, so we have to win there," Terry said.

"When we play Arsenal at home in February, wins against Burnley and Hull (next Wednesday) -- if we can achieve them -- would have opened a healthy gap for us. But to achieve that, it's got to be champion form."

Chelsea's status as favourites to deny United an unprecedented fourth consecutive title has been bolstered by the way in which they have thrived in the absence of their African stars for the last month, and England midfielder Frank Lampard believes that underlines the strength of their squad.

"We didn't say we'd struggle this month, everyone else did," Lampard said. "We have a lot of belief. I just think the loss of Didier (Drogba) was talked about too much.

"Didier is a big loss but the way Nicolas Anelka plays, he's one of the best out there as well. We've got the players who can come in. Maybe some needed to step up and everyone has done.

"We have gone up another gear this month. We had a bad run in December, dropped some points and we've worked hard to get that back."

Drogba and fellow Ivory Coast striker Salomon Kalou arrived back in London on Thursday but Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti has decided to spare them the trip to Burnley with Drogba likely to retun in Tuesday's match at Hull.

Arsenal will also be boosted by the return of their African stars with Alex Song and Emmanuel Eboue both available for the United clash, although Belgium centre-back Thomas Vermaelen is doubtful with a leg injury.

United will be without the suspended Rio Ferdinand but the loss of the England centre-back is offset by the return to fitness of Nemanja Vidic, who will partner Jonny Evans in a match manager Sir Alex Ferguson admits could be crucial to the club's chances of retaining their title.

"That is a big game for us," the Scot said. "We need to win."

The title tussle now looks set to remain a three-club affair with Tottenham, Manchester City, Liverpool and Aston Villa involved in the fight for fourth place and the final Champions League qualifying place.

Tottenham currently occupy the coveted slot but City, who entertain bottom side Portsmouth on Sunday, are arguably better placed courtesy of their two games in hand over Spurs and Liverpool.

Spurs signed Eidur Gudjohnsen on loan from Monaco on Friday but the Icelander will not be in the squad for Saturday's trip to Birmingham, who had gone 15 games unbeaten prior to their defeat at Chelsea on Wednesday.

Liverpool entertain Bolton with captain Steven Gerrard insisting that the club is close to turning the corner after a disastrous first half of the season.

"Confidence is slowly coming back and once confidence is back, results will follow," said Gerrard, who returned from injury in the goalless draw at Wolves in mid-week.

Villa travel to Fulham on Saturday, which also sees Hull entertain Wolves, in an important encounter for both clubs' survival prospects, and West Ham take on Blackburn.


Fixtures (1500GMT unless otherwise stated)

Saturday

Birmingham v Tottenham, Burnley v Chelsea (1730GMT), Fulham v Aston Villa, Hull v Wolves, Liverpool v Bolton, West Ham v Blackburn, Wigan v Everton

Sunday

Manchester City v Portsmouth (1330GMT), Arsenal v Manchester Utd (1600GMT)

Monday

Sunderland v Stoke (2000GMT)

Source: AFP

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