Vol. 5 Num 1023 Wed. April 18, 2007  

Barclays English Premier League
Hectic week for Chelsea

Frank Lampard expects Chelsea to shrug off the strains of their gruelling schedule and come out with all guns blazing as they try to keep the pressure on Premiership leaders Manchester United.

Jose Mourinho's side are still on course for an unprecedented quadruple after their Herculean efforts against Valencia and Blackburn last week.

But there is no let-up in Chelsea's hectic fixture list and by the time they kick off at West Ham on Wednesday they could be six points behind United, who play Sheffield United 24 hours earlier.

The reigning English champions managed to haul their weary bodies through extra-time to see off Blackburn in Sunday's FA Cup semifinal just five days after snatching a dramatic Champions League win in Valencia.

Mourinho insists he has few options to rest his key players, so the likes of Lampard, Didier Drogba, John Terry and Michael Essien will have to find a way to battle through the pain barrier over the final month of the campaign.

With so much at stake, England midfielder Lampard has no doubts his teammates will rise to the challenge of going head to head with United, who they also face in the FA Cup final.

"The quadruple is still on but there are a lot of tough games between now and the end of the season," Lampard told Sky Sports. "We will need character and quality if we are going to get anywhere near winning them all.

"It is obvious there is a shoot-out in the league and the FA Cup now, we know that. The Champions League is different, we both have tough semi-finals and are not thinking we will be in the final of that competition yet.

"Everything is an incentive this year because we are fighting on so many fronts. It would be nice to get the FA Cup in the bag considering what we have done with the League Cup and the Premiership.

"Although we have been very strong over the last couple of seasons, the FA Cup stands out as the one we haven't got."

The trip to struggling West Ham is guaranteed to be a ferocious affair as the two London rivals desperately need the points for differing reasons.

While Chelsea chase United, West Ham are embroiled in a fight for survival at the other end of the table.

Upton Park will be no place for the faint-hearted and Lampard, a former West Ham player, has warned his colleagues what to expect.

"It will be a hot atmosphere but we cannot afford to lose points in the title race," he said. "Both teams are desperate to win and I think it is going to be a bit of a war to be honest.

"It is very important after all the hard work we've done recently we don't let it go in one game. It will be a very tough match for us, make no mistake about that."

That Chelsea are still in contention on all fronts is a tribute to the way Mourinho has handled a traumatic season scarred by injuries to key players and his frosty relationship with Blues owner Roman Abramovich.

The sudden detente between the pair after Sunday's match, when they exchanged a brief hug in their first meeting since January, seemed to hint at an amicable resolution to the feud.

However, John Terry's revelation that talks over the Chelsea captain's contract extension have broken down will hardly have eased the tension behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge.

West Ham are five points from safety with just five games to play, but Australia defender Lucas Neill -- who may be regretting his decision to quit Blackburn earlier in the season and snub Liverpool for the Hammers -- insists a win against Chelsea could spark a great escape.

"We still need three wins and we've got five games in which to do it," Neill said. "Three of the matches are at home and are all winnable in my opinion.

"I hope the atmosphere will be bubbling against Chelsea. Naturally you raise your game against teams like that, and I expect there will be lots of passion and commitment.

"As long as we control our aggression, we can get something from the game. We have beaten Arsenal away. Who says we can't beat Chelsea at home?"