Sat, Apr 03, 2010 - Page 18 News List

Injuries bolster Chelsea’s title hopes

SILVER LININGJust when Chelsea’s season appeared to be unraveling with the end of their Champions League run, the team’s Premier League chances have brightened

AFP , LONDON

Chelsea may come to regard their exit from the Champions League as a blessing in disguise. Unlike the Londoners, Arsenal and Manchester United remain in the hunt for European soccer’s biggest prize. However, their participation in this week’s quarter-final first legs came at a price, with the two clubs’ respective talismen, Cesc Fabregas and Wayne Rooney, both facing extended injury lay-offs.

After limping out of United’s 2-1 defeat by Bayern Munich on Tuesday, Rooney was immediately ruled out of today’s potentially pivotal Premier League meeting with Chelsea at Old Trafford.

Fabregas will miss the rest of the domestic season after breaking his leg in Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Barcelona while centerback William Gallas and playmaker Andrey Arshavin will be out for three weeks with calf strains.

In contrast, everything suddenly looks rosier for a Chelsea squad whose season appeared to be unraveling last month as Inter ended their interest in the Champions League and valuable league points were dropped in matches against Manchester City and Blackburn.

Last weekend’s 7-1 thrashing of Aston Villa has put the spring back in the step of Frank Lampard and company and they will travel north confident of completing a double over the champions ­following their 1-0 defeat of United at Stamford Bridge in November.

“We’re looking forward to it,” England midfielder Lampard said. “We’ve beaten United already this season as well as Liverpool and Arsenal and we played different formations in all of those matches. That shows the quality of the players we have.”

“We had a bit of a dip last month, but we have forgotten about that now and we are concentrating on the target,” he said.

Nicolas Anelka led the Chelsea forward line against Villa, but it is safe to assume Didier Drogba will be back in the starting line-up at Old Trafford while the absence of Rooney presents Dimitar Berbatov with another opportunity to persuade skeptical United fans that he represents £30.75 million (US$46.9 million) of money well spent.

A United win would send Sir Alex Ferguson’s side four points clear at the top with five matches to play while a draw would probably be the best result for Arsenal.

The Gunners go into their meeting with Wolves three points adrift of the leaders, but with the advantage of a much more comfortable run-in than either of their rivals.

At the other end of the table, Hull will escape from the relegation zone — for 24 hours at least — if they can take anything from their trip to Stoke.

Hull’s survival hopes have been bolstered by a controversial win over Fulham, who rested key players last weekend ahead of their Europa League quarter-final meeting with Wolfsburg, and a positive result at the Britannia Stadium will pile the pressure on to free-falling West Ham.

The Hammers have lost their last six league matches, a run that prompted manager Gianfranco Zola to contemplate quitting in the run-up to tomorrow’s daunting trip to Everton.

A defeat at home to Blackburn could ensure that Portsmouth’s relegation from the top flight is confirmed by tomorrow evening, depending on results elsewhere and Burnley will look very strong favorites to join them unless they can derail Manchester City’s push for a Champions League place at Turf Moor this evening.

City’s win over Wigan on Monday lifted Roberto Mancini’s expensively assembled squad back to within two points of fourth-placed Tottenham, who will come up against their former striker Darren Bent at Sunderland today.

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