Chelsea FC manager Claudio Ranieri is taking nothing for granted against AC Sparta Praha.
By Trevor Haylett in London
Only twice in their 98-year history have Chelsea FC won eight games in succession. Should they reach that mark for a third time tomorrow in the UEFA Champions League against AC Sparta Praha, and if Besiktas JK fail to win at S.S. Lazio, they will be assured of winning Group G.
'Feet on the ground'
It is an enticing proposition for manager Claudio Ranieri and his team and a possibility that looked unlikely after their home defeat by the Turkish side on Matchday 2. Nevertheless Ranieri was in cautious mood on the eve of the encounter at Stamford Bridge, stressing that winning the game and ensuring passage to the knockout stages was paramount. "We must always walk with our feet on the ground," said the Chelsea manager.
'So many dangers'
In contrast, Sparta coach Jirí Kotrba was quick to lavish praise on his opponents and pinpointed them as likely winners of the final on 26 May. "When the draw gave us Chelsea I already said that they were the winners not only of this group but also of the whole competition," he said. "To pick out one player who is a danger to us would only offend the others. There are so many to choose from."
Juan Sebastián Veron misses out for Chelsea through a back injury sustained while on international duty with Argentina and Claude Makelele will need a late test on a neck problem. Right-back Glen Johnson is suspended, though his replacement Mario Melchiot scored the only goal in the win against Southampton FC at the weekend, while Marcel Desailly is fit to return after damaging a hip against Besiktas.
'Threat away from home'
Chelsea began their European campaign with a 1-0 win in Prague, achieved through William Gallas' late strike, but Ranieri warned that the Czech Republic side are more formidable away from home. "They are a very dangerous team," he said. "In Rome they led 2-0 after the first half and had a lot more chances to score before drawing 2-2. In Istanbul they had four or five chances to score and then lost the game eight minutes from the end."
'Stronger and quicker'
Chelsea's exhilarating 4-0 victory away to Lazio on Matchday 4 put them in command of the group and alerted the rest of Europe to the possibility that this squad of players, enhanced and enlarged by Roman Abramovich's wealth, could go a long way in the competition. However, Ranieri refuses to look beyond this game, saying: "It will not be an easy match for us. Sparta are another team to the one we played, stronger and quicker."
The visitors will be without suspended defender Petr Johana and travelled to London having suffered a 4-2 defeat last weekend against lowly FK Jablonec 97. However Kotrba said he expected "an absolutely brilliant performance from players who were not brilliant on Saturday".
'Ups and downs'
"Our situation is different to Chelsea who have a wide range of players," the Sparta coach said. "Our game is based on six or seven players who are the skeleton of this team and also of the Czech Republic national side so it is always possible that we will have our ups and downs."