LONDON, March 2 – Frank Lampard has warned Manchester United that Chelsea are determined to take the Premier League race down to the wire.
The Blues are seven points behind leaders United and have played a game more than the reigning champions, but Lampard believes the feelgood factor created by Guus Hiddink’s arrival as Chelsea manager has provided a timely boost at Stamford Bridge.
Hiddink has led Chelsea to three successive wins since replacing sacked Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari and the west Londoners can close the gap on United to four points if they beat Portsmouth at Fratton Park on Tuesday.
Lampard is hoping Sir Alex Ferguson’s men slip up at Newcastle on Wednesday, opening the way for a late Chelsea challenge.
"Considering the crisis everyone says we’re having this season, we’re still in second position," England midfielder Lampard said.
"I know we’re a fair distance behind Manchester United, but we’ll keep going. We closed the gap last year and only fell a little bit short.
"There are a lot of points still available, although to be fair to Manchester United they have been on a fantastic run.
"They can’t go on winning forever, one day they might start getting some penalty decisions against them at home. The luck can change and do so very quickly."
While Chelsea remain confident of pushing United all the way, morale at Liverpool is at rock bottom heading into their vital home clash against Sunderland on Tuesday.
Raphael Benitez’s side led the table for several weeks but a dismal run of two wins in seven matches has allowed United to overhaul them.
Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at Middlesbrough saw the Reds drop to third place and defender Fabio Aurelio admits they need to win every game now to have any chance of ending their 19-yair wait for the title.
"We lost a great opportunity to try to get closer to Manchester United but we must bounce back now and beat Sunderland at Anfield on Tuesday," Aurelio said.
"We will still keep on fighting because we know in football that anything can happen. We won’t give up and we will now try to win every game."
While Liverpool’s meltdown is causing plenty of anguish at Anfield, at least they will be able to take the consolation of Champions League action next season.
At Arsenal, the grim realisation that a place in top four could be out of reach is growing stronger by the week.
The Gunners travel to bottom of the table West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday six points adrift of fourth-placed Aston Villa after five successive draws.
Arsene Wenger’s side were booed off by the Emirates Stadium crowd after Saturday’s stalemate against Fulham and the Arsenal manager admits he is desperate to salvage a Champions League place.
"I don’t know whether the fans are losing faith. That is not my worry," Wenger said. "You know how much I want to achieve in the Champions League.
"I want to be in the Champions League because it’s the best I can be. You don’t play football to be average. Reaching the tournament is not important, it’s vital."
United’s trip to Newcastle will be a test of Ferguson’s resources after an energy-sapping 120 minutes of action in Sunday’s League Cup final win over Tottenham at Wembley.
The Scot is likely to bring back Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov and Nemanja Vidic, while Wayne Rooney could recover from a virus. How United’s title rivals must wish they had such strength in depth.
Tuesday (1945GMT unless stated)
Liverpool v Sunderland (2000GMT)
Portsmouth v Chelsea
West Brom v Arsenal
Blackburn v Everton (2000GMT)
Fulham v Hull (2000GMT)
Man City v Aston Villa
Newcastle v Man Utd
Stoke v Bolton
Tottenham v Middlesbrough (2000GMT)
Wigan v West Ham