Manchester United are within touching distance of the Premier League title but Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech is relishing the chance to make the leaders sweat on Saturday.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side will effectively wrap up their 17th English title with a win at Stamford Bridge. United would be six points clear of second-placed Chelsea with only two games to play and their vastly superior goal difference makes it virtually impossible for Chelsea to overhaul them.
Even a Chelsea victory won’t leave Avram Grant’s side in control of their own destiny as United’s goal difference is guaranteed to keep them in pole position.
But Cech believes United could still crack if the Blues beat them this weekend. It is a tantalising prospect for the Czech international, who said: “Every game now is like a final. Personally I play football to play in the big games and this is an exciting time for everyone.
“The Premier League is getting towards the end and after Saturday we can be neck-and-neck with Man United.”
Grant’s side have no reason to fear United at the Bridge, where they are unbeaten in the league for 80 matches – a run stretching back to February 2004.
Even so, Cech admits the key to Chelsea’s hopes of inflicting United’s first league defeat since February rest on their ability to subdue the visitors’ attacking trinity.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez have proved too hot to handle for most Premier League defences this season, but Cech is convinced the Blues will be able to keep the trio in check.
“Of course, United score the most goals in the league – they have got the attacking threat. But we have got a pretty good record at Stamford Bridge, so we hope to keep that going,” Cech said.
“I always like playing against United with their top players – you know you will have some work to do. When you keep a clean sheet against such an attacking team it is great.”
A shadow was cast over Chelsea’s preparations on Thursday when Frank Lampard’s mother Pat died after a short battle with pneumonia.
Lampard played at Liverpool in midweek because the England midfielder thought his mother was recovering but could be missing as he mourns her death.
While losing Lampard would be a big blow to Chelsea, Ferguson is also facing a nervous wait to see if Serbia defender Nemanja Vidic recovers from the stomach bug which sidelined him against Barcelona.
United’s surge towards the title has spluttered in the last two weeks after draws against Middlesbrough and Blackburn allowed Chelsea to close the gap.
Chelsea will take further encouragement from their lucky escape against Liverpool, when John Arne Riise’s last-gasp own goal gave them a morale-boosting Champions League semi-final first leg draw.
Ferguson is well aware that result could give Chelsea a massive lift and the Scot cautioned his team to expect fired-up opponents.
“As far as the second leg is concerned, there is no doubt Chelsea’s morale will have been boosted,” he said. “It was a great result for them, particularly the time of the equaliser.”
If United do retain the title they will owe a huge debt of gratitude to Ronaldo. The Portugal winger has an incredible 28 league goals this season and even his penalty miss against Barcelona couldn’t shake his confidence ahead of the trip to west London.
“It will be a tough game but we have a great chance as the team is very confident,” he said. “We do not want to drop any points at Chelsea, so it is important we go for the victory.”
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