Breathing space beckons for coy Chelsea

07 March 2014 01:31

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho's refusal to install his side as favourites in the Premier League title race will be further tested if they beat Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.

The Blues go into the Stamford Bridge clash four points clear of Liverpool and Arsenal, with Manchester City two points further adrift in fourth place having played two fewer games.

And with none of their nearest rivals in league action this weekend -- Arsenal and City are involved in the FA Cup, while Liverpool have no fixture -- Mourinho's side are well placed to tighten their grip on top spot.

The Portuguese has been at pains to point out that City will have three games in hand when they return to league action and have a superior goal difference, while Arsenal and Liverpool will have played one fewer game than the leaders.

But Mourinho's side have the chance to increase the pressure on the other contenders if they get points in the bag.

The manager, however, has maintained that his sights are set on a sustained challenge next season, when he expects the club to have recruited a world-class striker following a disappointing season for Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto'o and Demba Ba.

And he has now delivered a strong signal that AC Milan's Mario Balotelli figures high on his wish-list.

The pair worked together at Inter Milan before the Italy forward joined Manchester City and Mourinho has made it clear that he would welcome a reunion with the forward.

"In football, you never know the future," Mourinho said. "Balotelli is with a big club at the moment, but you never know the future.

"They want to keep the best players and want to keep the best Italian players. But Mario has already been in English football before.

"I'm not going to be manager of Milan or the Italy national team, but he's a good kid and somebody I'd like to work with again."

- Injury scare for Hazard -

Chelsea's 3-1 win at Fulham last time out was inspired by a hat-trick from Andre Schurrle, who scored three times in 17 second-half minutes to give his side victory over their local rivals.

Schurrle has been a fringe player for much of the season but his performance at Craven Cottage could earn him a starting spot against Tim Sherwood's Spurs.

Eden Hazard, who created two of Schurrle's goals, is expected to start after recovering from a knock picked up on international duty with Belgium against the Ivory Coast.

"It hurt but I think I can play this weekend," Hazard said after the 2-2 draw in Brussels. "After 20 seconds I got a kick. A nice welcome, but I'm not worried."

Tottenham's top-four challenge has faltered and they currently lie fifth, four points behind City, having played two games more.

However, they will be boosted by Roberto Soldado's return to scoring form after the Spanish close-season signing netted the only goal in last weekend's 1-0 win over Cardiff City.

It was only Soldado's second league goal from open play since his £26 million ($43.6 million, 31.4 million euros) move from Valencia last June and he admits that his frustrating run of form has been testing.

"If all this had happened to me when I was 22, I would have probably returned home after a month," he said.

"But I believe it is a positive experience for me, my family and for the education of my children.

"I am the only one responsible for my poor form, but I will get better. Despite all the time I have gone without scoring a goal, the support they (the fans) have given me has been incredible.

"Every time I touch the ball I feel there is great expectation and people are hoping for the best for me. I feel wanted here, even though I haven't given them anything at the moment."

Sandro is in line to make his first Premier League start for Spurs in three months after recovering from a calf injury.

Source: AFP