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Chelsea fight to keep leaders Arsenal in sight

SoccerNews in English Premier League 27 Sep 2008


Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari has stated he will treat every competition with equal importance, but there is no doubt the Premier League remains his top target.

The Blues, who take on Stoke City this weekend, have not won the trophy for two seasons, and currently sit second in the table behind Arsenal after an impressive start to Scolari's first season.

The Brazilian's side are unbeaten, having picked up 11 points from five matches, and beat Portsmouth 4-0 in the League Cup in midweek, and will be confident of picking up three more points at the Britannia Stadium.

Stoke, newly promoted from the Championship, have managed one win so far, and their biggest threat comes from the long throw-ins of Rory Delap.

Chelsea should deal with the aerial threat, and will push their hosts onto the defensive by naming an attacking line-up.

Ivory Coast international Didier Drogba is expected to make his first league start of the campaign as the central striker, while two from Nicolas Anelka, Joe Cole, Salomon Kalou and Florent Malouda will flank him.

Midfielder Deco has a thigh strain, and defender Ricardo Carvalho has a knee problem, which will mean both miss out.

Goalkeeper Petr Cech will be looking for his 95th Chelsea clean sheet when he walks and the Czech international is optimistic about the future.

“You can see a little bit this season that we try to play a little more with the ball,” he said. “We have the players to play this style and I think, as a manager, you want to adapt to what you have in your squad.

“Against Wigan we fought really hard to get three points with players a lot of people would say are only players to play nice football. We showed that we are strong enough even in battles and this is important.”

Stoke manager Tony Pulis recognises the large gulf in class between the two sides, even after watching his side hold out for a goalless draw with Liverpool at Anfield last time out.

“Chelsea are a notch up from Liverpool,” he said. “I have watched Chelsea live twice. They have got all the answers to all the questions you can pose them.

“The thing I like about them is that they work very hard for each other. They are not a group of individuals. They play and work hard as a team.

“We are the team everyone expects to beat and it takes a bit of pressure off us, but we have got a little bit more than that.

“What you would love is to go into these games on level terms, but it is not going to happen. You are always fighting under the sand line. It's a massive challenge.

“There is a group in the top five who have more than others, you have to accept it. There is no good moaning about it, but don't forget it.”

Stoke have no fresh injury concerns for the game, but have Michael Tonge and Tom Soares available again after they were cup-tied for the midweek League Cup win over Reading.

Forward Vincent Pericard is in contention, and bidding to make up for the time he wasted as a result of being sent to prison last season for attempting to pervert the course of justice in relation to a speeding offence.

Pericard marked his intentions for this term with a goal on Tuesday night before the penalty shoot-out victory.

“I'm playing for my future and I've been knocking on the manager's door to say I'm here, ready and fit,” he said.

“I owe the boss for standing by me and hope I can repay him fully for the faith he has shown in me.”


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