LONDON, February 20- After a testing week of negative non-sporting attention, Chelsea will hope to return to making headlines on the pitch this weekend when the Premier League leaders host Burnley on Saturday.
Their preparations for the fixture have been overshadowed by the fall-out from the incident on Tuesday when a group of Chelsea fans pushed a black man off a Paris Metro train and launched into a chorus of racist chanting.
Their 1-1 Champions League draw at Paris Saint-Germain that night has barely been discussed as a consequence and with French and British police both investigating what happened, Chelsea have taken action by banning three of the fans involved from Stamford Bridge.
The conduct — and songs — of the home fans will be under close scrutiny on Saturday, but for the players, it will be a relief to get back on to the pitch against second-bottom Burnley.
Captain John Terry, himself banned for racially abusing an opponent in 2012, has praised young team-mate Kurt Zouma ahead of a game that will see Chelsea look to defend their seven-point lead over Manchester City.
The emergence of 20-year-old Zouma has seen Gary Cahill’s place alongside Terry in central defence come under threat, but the 34-year-old former England captain believes the competition is healthy for everyone.
“It’s difficult when you see young boys come in like Kurt,” said Terry.
“He’s been a revelation since he came in. He’s young, fit, strong and hungry and it makes it even more difficult.
“When Gary Cahill plays he’s been great, when Kurt plays he’s been great, so it’s hard to get the balance, but we’re all rotating and there’s enough games to share around. We all want to play every game.”
Chelsea face Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup final on March 1, with the second leg of the PSG tie to come on March 11, and Terry knows squad depth will be a key factor in his side’s bid for glory on three fronts.
– Ings focused –
“That’s what it’s all about —- players digging deep at this time of year,” he said.
“We have a little bit of time, especially after the Burnley game before we play the Capital One Cup final against Spurs.
“More importantly, we are back in the Premier League this weekend for what is a massive three points.
“It is important we win and they have shown already at Man City (where Burnley drew 2-2) that they’re hungry and fighting. Where we and they are in the table means nothing. We will certainly be up for it.”
Burnley lost 3-1 against Chelsea in August in their first top-flight game since winning promotion last season, when Jose Mourinho’s side scored three times in a stunning 20-minute spell.
But manager Sean Dyche is not ready to run up the white flag as he prepares for the return fixture, even though his side have won just one of their last nine league games.
“I thought at the beginning of the season that any team that finishes above Chelsea would be some side and I still think that,” said the Burnley manager, whose side impressed on their last outing despite going down 3-1 at Manchester United.
“They are very strong and are playing some good stuff. But it’s not like we are a non-league side going there. We have shown we can compete at this level.”
Burnley’s attack will again be led by England under-21 international Danny Ings, who has scored five times in his last six league games but who is out of contract at the end of the season and looks set to leave Turf Moor.
He is interesting Liverpool and last weekend held talks about a possible move to Real Sociedad, but Dyche is confident the 22-year-old is still focused on Burnley’s survival fight.
“I have no reason to doubt his thoughts about Burnley Football Club and what we’re doing,” Dyche said. “You can tell that by his performances.”