Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech has warned his teammates against complacency as they prepare to face a shell-shocked Fulham side in a Boxing Day derby today.
The Blues could not have picked a better time to face the Cottagers, who are reeling after suffering their heaviest ever home defeat last week, a 5-0 thrashing by Manchester United.
Yet Cech has urged his teammates to disregard Fulham’s recent problems as Andre Villas-Boas’ men look to pick up three points in order to stay in touch with the league leaders.
“We can’t look too much at the table, we need to keep going step by step, try to win our games and try to catch up as many points as we can,” Cech said. “We depend on everybody else, so it’s up to them how they are going to do, but we just need to keep winning our games. Fulham will be a difficult game because they lost 5-0 at home in their last game. It’s a big London derby and they will want to bounce back, so Chelsea is a great motivation to say sorry to their supporters after Man United, but we are in a situation where we need to keep winning.”
Villas-Boas heads into the game trying to juggle a growing central defensive crisis that has seen him open talks with Bolton Wanderers about a move for Gary Cahill.
The injury to Branislav Ivanovic during the 1-1 draw with Tottenham Hotpsur last week means John Terry is the Blues’ only fully fit centerback ahead of the meeting with Fulham at Stamford Bridge.
That will only strengthen Villas-Boas’ resolve to complete a deal for England defender Cahill — out of contract at the end of the season — as quickly as possible.
However, until the window opens Villas-Boas will be forced to improvise unless David Luiz recovers from a knee injury in time to face Fulham in a game Chelsea must win to maintain their title hopes.
The point gained at White Hart Lane left Villas-Boas’ side 11 points adrift of Premier League leaders Manchester City and while Chelsea will expect to beat a Fulham side in the doldrums following the United drubbing, a makeshift defense will do little to enhance their chances of victory.
Villas-Boas insists there is no way back for the transfer-listed Alex and he is likely to use Paulo Ferreira or Oriol Romeu alongside Terry.
Frank Lampard could return to the starting lineup in place of Ramires after the Brazil midfielder collected his fifth booking of the season.
Fulham sit just four points above the bottom three and, having also exited the Europa League, are in desperate need of a lift.
The performance against United drew widespread criticism, but manager Martin Jol insists his side can turn things around quickly.
“I don’t think we are lacking confidence, it’s about teamwork,” Jol said. “If you work as a team, we are good and our goal-difference has shown that — that’s probably been a big plus for us this season — but that is something we destroyed on Wednesday with the five goals. If you play as a team, you don’t concede goals and you always get your chances.”
Jol has no new injury worries and he may well opt to restore Bobby Zamora to the starting lineup after starting the England forward on the bench against United.
“We have Chelsea ... then Norwich and Arsenal, so we just have to look at what we did wrong, pick ourselves up fast and improve,” fullback John Arne Riise said. “We will lift our heads up, focus on the things we’ve done right in the last few weeks, work hard and stick together.”