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Championship charge begins here

Published: Friday 9 April 2004, 1.30CET
AS Monaco FC and Chelsea FC return to league action this weekend hoping to build on European triumphs.

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Published: Friday 9 April 2004, 1.30CET

Championship charge begins here

AS Monaco FC and Chelsea FC return to league action this weekend hoping to build on European triumphs.

AS Monaco FC and Chelsea FC return to domestic action this weekend hoping their excellent UEFA Champions League performances in midweek can inspire them to title success.

Back to business
Fresh from their amazing victory against Real Madrid CF on Tuesday, Monaco have a battle to stay top of Ligue 1, starting with an away match at RC Lens. With only a one-point advantage over Olympique Lyonnais, Monaco have suffered a dip in league form of late, with only one win and three draws in the past four matches, and coach Didier Deschamps is aware Lens will be determined to bring them down to earth after their European heroics.

League focus
Ousted from the Champions League by FC Porto on Wednesday, in theory Lyon have the easiest weekend of the title contenders as they travel to 14th-placed RC Strasbourg. The champions can focus solely on chasing a third league title in a row whereas third placed Paris Saint-Germain FC, who travel to OGC Nice, are still competing for the French Cup.

Southgate absent
In England, Chelsea will be looking to keep up the pressure on Premiership leaders Arsenal FC after knocking their London rivals out of the Champions League on Tuesday. The leaders bounced back on Friday, restoring their seven-point advantage with a thrilling 4-2 win against Liverpool FC, but Claudio Ranieri’s side will be confident of taking all three points against a Middlesbrough FC side shorn of their key central defender Gareth Southgate.

Relegation battle
At the other end of the table, Blackburn Rovers FC face Leeds United AFC in a match vital to the survival of both clubs. Blackburn are only three points ahead of second from bottom Leeds and have lost their last two games whereas Leeds were boosted by a 3-2 win against Leicester City FC last Monday.

Ballack missing
Like Chelsea, FC Bayern München also need to win while hoping Bundesliga leaders SV Werder Bremen slip up. Seven points separate the sides, and on paper Bayern’s task is harder as they travel to fifth-placed FC Schalke 04 who are striving for a place in the UEFA Cup. Bayern will be without influential midfield player Michael Ballack, who has a groin injury. Bremen are away to lowly Eintracht Frankfurt, who are third from bottom and are once again without their coach Willi Reimann who is serving a touchline ban.

Milan eager
Serie A leaders AC Milan return from their shock defeat at the hands of RC Deportivo La Coruña in the Champions League on Tuesday hoping that third from bottom Empoli FC will bear the brunt of their frustration. Milan are looking to consolidate their nine-point Serie A lead and end a run which has seen them take just two points from as many games.

Roma ‘away’
Second-placed AS Roma have a game in hand as they are waiting on a date to replay their cancelled derby against S.S. Lazio. Indeed, they will play their home tie against AC Chievo Verona in Palermo as they are still subject to a two-game suspension at the Olimpico stadium because of the crowd trouble that led to the Rome derby being abandoned. 

Back on track
Spanish leaders Madrid, still reeling from their Champions League exit, have the chance to get back on course against CA Osasuna, who are riding high in sixth. Second-placed Valencia CF travel to Real Zaragoza knowing they are just one point behind Madrid. Deportivo, a further nine points back in third, return to action with a tough tie against UEFA Cup quarter-finalists Villarreal CF.

Last updated: 10/04/04 20.30CET

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