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Stuttering Schalke savour Chelsea test

Despite his team propping up Group B, contending with injuries and poor form, Mirko Slomka rates FC Schalke 04's chances against Chelsea FC as 50-50.

Coach Mirko Slomka is convinced FC Schalke 04 go into their match against Chelsea FC as a serious rival – despite the team propping up Group B having lost 2-0 at Stamford Bridge a fortnight ago, and contending with an injury crisis that threatens to derail their entire season.

Kuranyi blow
Already reeling from the news that striker Kevin Kuranyi tore a thigh muscle in Friday's 1-0 defeat at FC Energie Cottbus, Slomka was then deprived of Gerald Asamoah (knee) and Fabian Ernst (flu) in Monday's training session. Yet he still believes the game could go either way. "Our chances are 50-50," he said. "Although we have so many injuries and are playing against an extremely good team, I think it's still the same. At Chelsea we had a few chances in the first half and at the beginning of the second."

Soul searching
The spate of injuries has compounded Schalke's poor form, with Kuranyi's absence a major blow. "The way we're playing is not good enough but we're being hurt by the injury situation," said Slomka. "We're going to miss Kuranyi. He is the player who scores goals, is strong in the air and inspires others. But we will not use injuries as an excuse for the players to hide behind, because they will be delighted to play in the Champions League against Chelsea – we fought the whole season for the privilege of savouring games like this, and we've still got a chance with two Champions League home games to turn things around."

Pleasing progress
Chelsea have significant casualties of their own, though this has done nothing to hamper their progress. Unbeaten in Group B, the west London side hold a three-point lead over Rosenborg BK, with Valencia and Schalke a point further back, and they are in similarly impressive fettle in domestic competition. They have won their last four Premier League games without conceding to move into fourth position, despite John Terry, Ashley Cole, Paulo Ferreira and Michael Ballack all being sidelined. "I'm very pleased with the progress and the results, but Tuesday is the Champions League. We are in a good position but want to qualify as soon as possible," said manager Avram Grant, who took his first coaching course in 1977, a few miles away from Gelsenkirchen in Duisburg.

Overall improvement
"All my life I have liked to create things, but I like to do it step-by-step," added Grant, whose charges coasted to a 2-0 victory away to Wigan Athletic FC on Saturday thanks to goals from Frank Lampard and Juliano Belletti. "In every aspect of the game we have improved. When you want to build a style of attacking football, it is much more difficult to build the defence. But we have done a good job at this stage of the season. To do so many positive things in a short time is a credit to everybody. But it is only the beginning of the process." The upward trend could even have continued into the knockout stage by Tuesday night, should Chelsea prevail in Germany and Rosenborg beat Valencia in the group's other fixture.