For two long weeks the players of Chelsea FC have carried a grievance and tonight comes their opportunity to put things right. They believe they let slip a winning position in the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg in Monaco a fortnight ago and are determined to make amends in front of their own supporters.
At 1-1 in the Stade Louis II against an AS Monaco FC side reduced to ten men, the English team appeared well set to take control of the tie. Yet they finished 3-1 down and must find a way to close the gap at Stamford Bridge if they are to realise their dream of a first-ever appearance in the Champions League final.
Manager Claudio Ranieri has accepted his share of the blame for a night in the principality that promised much and ended so sourly but the players say they also have to hold their hands up. "We've put ourselves in this position; now it's up to us to get ourselves out of it," said the Icelandic international Eidur Gudjohnsen.
All that matters
"It definitely hurt coming away from Monaco with that result, especially as we felt we had the game in our hands. But it's no good dwelling on that. We had to put it out of our minds because there were important league games to face but now this is the only game that matters for us."
Belief among Gudjohnsen and his team-mates is strong - because it must be. "It has to be as high as possible because without belief you don't achieve anything," the 25-year-old said. But the imposing striker knows from experience how difficult a task this is for his side.
He cannot recall a situation in his career when his team were able to overturn a two-goal deficit. "When I was with PSV [Eindhoven] I remember coming on as sub when we were 2-0 down in the quarter-finals of the European [Champion Clubs'] Cup. We managed to equalise but then went down 3-2."
Likely to start
Gudjohnsen has impressed in the Champions League knockout stages, scored a brilliant goal to put Chelsea ahead in the previous round against Arsenal FC, and seems sure to get the nod tonight. With Adrian Mutu sidelined it comes down to a choice of two from three: Gudjohnsen, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Hernán Crespo. As usual the manager will not reveal his hand until about 90 minutes before the start.
"There is really no hint in training as to what the manager is thinking. He leaves it late to announce his starting eleven but I agree with that because he wants to keep everyone on their toes, thinking they are playing and preparing in the right way. If you learn you are not starting a long time before the game you are not properly focused. Yet with injuries and everything else it could be that you are required to come on as substitute ten minutes after the start."
Against Arsenal, Chelsea faced another tough test and the experience of upsetting the odds and coming through at Highbury with a prized victory should stand them in good stead tonight. "We showed our character there and this is another occasion for us to do the same.
It is a huge prize in front of us, not only for the recognition for the team but also for the experience it gives you as a player. For people like John Terry, Frank Lampard, Wayne Bridge and myself who are all of a similar age, it's an opportunity to achieve something really important in our careers."
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