By Matthew Spiro in Monaco
AS Monaco FC captain Ludovic Giuly feels his team are going into today's semi-final first leg against Chelsea FC "under no pressure at all" after already surpassing their expectations in the UEFA Champions League.
Few tipped Monaco to get through the group stage, let alone reach the last four at the expense of nine-times champions Real Madrid CF, and Giuly revealed that even he has been surprised by the run. "At the start we said we'd take one game at a time and see how far we could get, but I'd be lying if I told you I thought we'd get this far," he said. "Now we're here we're under no pressure at all and we'll just approach the Chelsea game like we have every other - by giving our maximum and hoping that is enough."
'My best level'
A month after returning from injury, the France forward appeared to have rediscovered his pre-Christmas form in the second leg against Madrid - scoring two goals in a 3-1 win - and Monaco fans will be hoping his freshness will again prove decisive. "It took me a few games but I feel like I'm close to my best again," continued a relaxed Giuly.
'Ten days off'
"We've all had ten days off and that's done us a lot of good because a few of us were tired after the [RC] Lens match. It gave us the chance to take a step back, have a breather and prepare quietly." The break has also helped Didier Deschamps to retain a virtually injury-free squad, with just defender Sébastien Squillaci missing with a thigh injury.
Nevertheless, the Monaco coach, who has Argentinian midfield player Lucas Bernardi back from suspension, was under no illusions as to the size of the task in hand. "Chelsea are in the semi-finals because they deserve to be there," Deschamps said. "They deserved to beat Arsenal [FC] over the two matches and we are aware of their qualities. They have an outstanding defensive unit, they allow you no space in midfield and they're physically strong."
He is especially looking forward to seeing his former France team-mate Marcel Desailly, the Chelsea defender. "Marcel is a great friend and it will certainly be an emotional moment when we meet," Deschamps said. "He remains an excellent player and I know it will be difficult for us to get the better of him." Desailly is set to start alongside John Terry in the centre of Chelsea's defence after manager Claudio Ranieri confirmed that William Gallas - along with winger Damien Duff - had missed the trip through injury.
But the 35-year-old Desailly, who has won the Champions League with Olympique de Marseille and AC Milan, was keen to play down the Deschamps link and focus on the game. "More than anything it is a massive match for Chelsea Football Club," Desailly said. "The club has never been to the semi-finals before. To get this close to the final and to winning the competition is already a great achievement, but now we have to take our chance."
Ranieri, who should have Hernán Crespo, Juan Sebastián Verón and Eidur Gudjohnsen available for selection after injuries, was keen to play down his side's chances despite their 100 per cent away record in Europe this season. "
People in England say we are favourites, but this is not true," he said. "Monaco have the best attack in the competition and they score a lot of goals, at home especially. We will need to see a great Chelsea if we want to keep that away record going."
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