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.

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