Can Chelsea overcome the hoodoo that sunk Man United and the Gunners?
IF CHELSEA are to open up a lead at the summit of the Premier League this weekend, they must achieve a result that has proved beyond title rivals Manchester United and Arsenal.
Manager Carlo Ancelotti takes his side to Turf Moor to face Burnley, who have beaten Alex Ferguson’s champions and held Arsene Wenger's Gunners already this season.
Following on from an impressive 3-0 midweek success against Birmingham, who had not lost for 15 matches ahead of their trip to Stamford Bridge, optimism will be high within Chelsea ranks that they can collect another three points.
However, this fixture will provide a test of character for the side and experienced players at the club will realise it requires as much concentration and focus as any encounter against one of the country’s bigger clubs.
The Blues have suffered two away defeats this term, at the hands of Manchester City and Aston Villa, and this latest game on the road is an opportunity to open the gap at the top of the league.
United and Arsenal face each other tomorrow, meaning a win at Burnley would leave Chelsea four points clear of Ferguson’s side, and five ahead of Wenger's men.
“If we open up that gap again it’ ll be great,” said midfielder Frank Lampard, who was an integral part of Chelsea's two Premier League title successes (2004-05 and 2005-06) under Jose Mourinho.
“Those little mental things are great during the season.
“It's a great to be back on top. We knew we had games in hand but we didn't like to see ourselves down in third place. Arsenal were on a good run but it's a marathon not a sprint.”
Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou are both available following their time on Africa Cup of Nations Duty with Ivory Coast.
Chelsea's ability to cope without Drogba's goals was questioned before he flew off to Angola, but since then the London outfit have won all four fixtures they have played – scoring 17 goals along the way.
“We didn't say we'd struggle this month, everyone else did,” Lampard added. “We have a lot of belief. I just think the loss of Didier was talked about too much. 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.”
The last time these sides met was in August, and Chelsea ran out 3-0 winners courtesy of goals from Nicolas Anelka, Michael Ballack and Ashley Cole.
Since then, Burnley have changed managers though, and Brian Laws has failed to pick up a win since taking over from Owen Coyle earlier in the month. In fact, Burnley have not even scored a goal since he arrived.
The former Sheffield Wednesday chief has lost all three matches so far, leaving the Clarets inside the bottom three. And they have injury problems to contend with too. Versatile anchorman Graham Alexander and midfielder Chris McCann are almost certainly ruled out of the game, although Cameroon inter national Andre Bikey returns from international duty.
Defender Leon Cort and goalkeeper Nicky Weaver have been brought in this week in an attempt to add strength in depth to the squad.
Cort, a £1.5-million signing from Stoke, is set for his debut against Chelsea, while former Manchester City keeper Weaver, who joined as a free agent, has made it clear he is ready to challenge Brian Jensen for the number one spot.
He said: “The chance to come back into the Premier League was something I couldn’t turn down and hopefully it’s longer than just for a few months.
“There are 16 games left and a lot of points to play for and all the players will pull in the right direction to keep the club in the Premiership.” – Sapa-AFP
UP A GEAR: Frank Lampard’s Chelsea are in the groove.