Chelsea face up to make-or-break week

Avram Grant has hailed his side's battling 1-0 win at Sunderland as proof that Chelsea are in good shape.

updated: March 16, 2008 08:06 IST
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Avram Grant has hailed his side's battling 1-0 win at Sunderland as proof that Chelsea are in good shape for a week that could make or break their bid to overhaul Arsenal and Manchester United in the Premier League title race.

John Terry's early header proved to be the slender difference between two teams at opposite ends of the table and Sunderland could count themselves unfortunate not to have taken a point that would have been so important in their struggle against relegation.

But, for Grant, whose side are unbeaten in 12 league games, there was the satisfaction of Chelsea's 17th clean sheet of the season, indicative of a stubborn defence which is underpinning their success.

Now they prepare to face Tottenham at White Hart Lane on Wednesday before receiving Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, and Grant insisted his squad would go into those crunch matches with confidence high.

He said: "Tottenham and Asenal are very big games this week, but I don't see any week when it's not important. Every game is important and, when we come to the end of the season, even more important.

"Every game will be very difficult, which is why we just needed to do our job against Sunderland.

"I'm optimistic by nature. If I was in a situation where I didn't believe, I think I would be looking for another job.

"If there is one person in the club who doesn't believe, he shouldn't be in football."

The gritty nature of the performance at the Stadium of Light was encouraging for Grant after their FA Cup defeat at Barnsley.

He said: "Chelsea want to be a big club and sometimes people from outside need to know we are a big club. When we lose a game it makes us stronger, not weaker. You saw the response after the League Cup final (loss to Tottenham) and now after the FA Cup defeat."

However, Grant would have found it hard to generate much optimism about Chelsea's title prospects if Sunderland had taken any of the chances they created, particularly in the closing stages.

Roy Keane's team have now picked up just one point from four games when they have failed to score, a drought that now stretches back for six hours 15 minutes. But Keane was encouraged by this display.

He said: "It is very unusual to lose at home and get applauded off the pitch.

"We gave away a sloppy goal from a needless corner, but I thought the players' reaction over the 90 minutes was brilliant.

"I'm very happy with my players. I can't pick out anybody who didn't play a part, but we needed to get a goal.

"There were certainly a lot of plus points. The commitment pleased me and we showed good quality, but football is about what happens in both boxes. That's football in a nutshell.

"They had a chance and took it and that's why they are going for the title and the European Cup. These top teams are always capable of winning 1-0."

Chelsea's win has not altered Keane's title prediction because he staying faithful to the club where he spent most of his playing career.

He said: "My money is still on who it has been on for the last few months - and that's Manchester United."

Keane left out Kieran Richardson, Michael Chopra and Daryl Murphy, but denied suggestions they had been axed on disciplinary grounds.