Sat, Nov 29, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Chelsea out to prove itself

AFP , LONDON

Chelsea flunked the first examination of their Premiership title ambitions when a rare blunder by goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini gifted Arsenal victory at Highbury last month.

But since then Claudio Ranieri's expensively assembled squad have been assiduously doing their homework and they get their chance of a resit when champions Manchester United visit Stamford Bridge tomorrow for the biggest game of the season so far.

There may be only three points at stake with a little over a third of the campaign gone. But if Ranieri's men are to stay the distance in this season's three-way title race, they know they can ill afford the blow to their self-belief that a home defeat by United would inflict.

England midfielder Joe Cole however is confident that Chelsea can come through their latest test with flying colours.

"It will be a real test of how far we've come as a team," Cole acknowledged. "That is how people are going to look at it.

"But there is no reason why we should be afraid. We think we have got enough to trouble them and we will be looking to give them a real game."

Cole was Chelsea's most inspired performer in Wednesday's drab goalless draw with Sparta Prague in the Champions League and could retain his place in the starting line-up even if Juan Sebastian Veron recovers from a back strain in time to face his former club.

Whoever starts, Chelsea will have to produce a more clinical edge in front of goal than was on display on Wednesday night.

"We know there are not going to be many chances on offer so we will have to put it away when we do get them," Cole acknowledged.

Cole's bullish outlook was shared by Irish winger Damien Duff.

"You don't spend ?150 million pounds to be runners up and we want to win everything we are involved in," Duff said.

The former Blackburn star admitted there was frustration in the Chelsea camp over Wednesday's performance.

"Everyone was down in the dressing room after Wednesday's performance but that speaks for itself," he said. "It shows we want to become a dominant force."

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