Euro dreams dashed, Chelsea still have ‘a massive one to go for’ in Premier League
Premier League leaders Chelsea will turn back to domestic matters for solace this weekend following their dramatic and ill-tempered elimination from the Champions League by Paris Saint-Germain in mid-week.
After victory over Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup final, Jose Mourinho’s side looked poised to sweep all before them over the season’s final weeks, only to tumble out of European competition on away goals after a fiery 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.
The conduct of Chelsea’s players, who swarmed around referee Bjorn Kuipers as he sent off Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and their failure to overcome 10-man opposition saw them pilloried in the British press on Thursday.
They remain extremely well placed in the title race, five points clear of Manchester City with a game in hand, but Southampton will be eager to exploit any frailty – physical and psychological – when they visit the Bridge on Sunday.
“We have to pick ourselves up and go again at the weekend now,” said Chelsea captain John Terry. “There’s enough experience in the squad to rally round and get everyone going again.
“We’ve got the (League) Cup in the pocket and the Premier League is a massive one to go for. The manager said if we can win the (League) Cup and the Premier League, it will be a very successful year.
“Southampton will come here playing on the front foot and if we’re not at it, we’ll drop points and slip away in the Premier League.”
Champions City have already clawed back an eight-point deficit once this season and they can provisionally close the gap on Chelsea to two points if they win at second-bottom Burnley on Saturday.
But Manuel Pellegrini’s side must also keep an eye on their rear-view mirror, with third-place Arsenal now only four points behind them after a run of four consecutive league victories.
Arsene Wenger’s side host West Ham United on Saturday, bolstered by a 2-1 victory at Manchester United on Monday that took them into the semi-finals of the FA Cup.
Arsenal also have one eye on the second leg of their Champions League last 16 tie at Monaco next week, when they must seek to overturn a 3-1 deficit, and Wenger says the time has come for his players to show their worth.
“You have to stand up to be strong enough, to fight, to show that you have the courage and that you’re not inhibited because you’re under pressure, and that’s the difficulty of the modern player,” he told the Arsenal website.
“Twenty years ago you could lose a game and people would say, ‘Next time Arsenal will play better.’ Today you lose a game and it is always a crisis. It’s not easy for the players to deal with that.”
United’s defeat by Arsenal left Louis van Gaal’s side with only a top-four finish to play for and they are under increasing pressure from Liverpool and also Tottenham, who visit Old Trafford on Sunday.
Spurs have won on their last two trips to Old Trafford and should they repeat the feat, they would go level on points with United, who would sink to fifth place if Liverpool then won at Swansea City on Monday.
Unbeaten in 12 league games, Liverpool hope to welcome captain Steven Gerrard back from a hamstring injury for their trip to the Liberty Stadium.
Liverpool’s recent momentum hit a wall last Sunday when they were held to a 0-0 draw by Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup, but Gerrard returns determined to steer his side to a top-four finish and FA Cup glory before jetting off to the Los Angeles Galaxy at the end of the season.
“I’ve just got over a hamstring injury and I am fit and available for the next game,” he said on Thursday during an event to publicise a charity game at Anfield later this month.
“I want to finish the season really strong and leave the team in the top four and hopefully go all the way in the FA Cup. That is how I want to sign off.”
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Published: March 13, 2015 04:00 AM