Chelsea welcome Blackpool


LONDON, September 17- Chelsea will look to strengthen their grip on top spot in the Premier League when Blackpool arrive in London on Sunday with the newboys hoping to avoid a repeat of their previous trip to the capital.Last month Blackpool’s visit to Arsenal ended in a 6-0 thrashing for Ian Holloway’s men.

Premier League champions Chelsea head into this weekend’s clash on the back of a 4-1 midweek win away to Slovakian side MSK Zilina that saw them start their Champions League campaign in style.

Chelsea have never won European club football’s leading tournament and, with this season’s final taking place at London’s Wembley Stadium, they could be forgiven for focusing on the trophy their billonaire owner Roman Abramovich is desperate to bring to Stamford Bridge.

But Italian manager Carlo Ancelotti has great respect for the domestic league title too and is set to field England midfielder Frank Lampard, who should be fit following a hernia injury, against Blackpool.

"Lampard trained today (Thursday). I think he will be able to play on Sunday," Ancelotti said.

Despite their mauling by Arsenal, Blackpool currently occupy an impressive fourth spot in the table after wins over Wigan and Newcastle, as well as a draw with Fulham.

And Blackpool forward Luke Varney said the north-west side would not be cowed by playing at Stamford Bridge.

"We spoke before about what we wanted from these two games and to be honest I would have taken a point from Newcastle but we can go to Chelsea now and enjoy ourselves," he said.

"We are going to go there with the same attitude, the same group, the same togetherness. We’re achieving a lot more than everyone was expecting so we’ll be full of confidence and who knows what will happen?"

Second-placed Arsenal, who thrashed Braga 6-0 in the Champions League on Wednesday, are away to Sunderland on Saturday with manager Arsene Wenger having again higlighted what he sees as unfair challenges on his players.

Sunderland manager Steve Bruce refused to rise to the bait but Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce, no great fan of Wenger, did not hold back.

"Arsene has most of the media in his pocket now and is almost — almost — affecting the officials so that you can’t tackle an Arsenal player."

Manchester United are in action against Liverpool, in what has long been one of the league’s standout fixtures, on Sunday.

United could only manage a goalless Champions League draw against Rangers, the Scottish club their manager Alex Ferguson represented as a striker, on Tuesday while Liverpool beat Romania’s Steaua Bucharest 4-1 in the Europa League on Thursday.

The match will be United’s first since Antonio Valencia suffered the ankle injury that threatens to rule the Ecuador winger out for the season and will give Wayne Rooney, in the spotlight over lurid allegations concerning reported extra-marital affairs, a chance to shine against the Red Devils’ bitter rivals.

On Saturday, Blackburn, who’ve won just once in four league matches so far this season, are at home to Fulham while Aston Villa, in their last fixture before their new French boss Gerard Houllier takes command, face Bolton.

Everton play Newcastle while Stoke welcome bottom of the table West Ham, who will be without manager Avram Grant because the Israeli is observing the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur.

Saturday’s other match sees Tottenham, who squandered a 2-0 lead in a 2-2 Champions League draw away to German side Bremen in midweek, welcome Wolves to White Hart Lane.

Fixtures (all 1400GMT unless stated):

Saturday: Aston Villa v Bolton, Blackburn v Fulham, Everton v Newcastle, Stoke City v West Ham (1145GMT), Sunderland v Arsenal (1630GMT), Tottenham v Wolves, West Brom v Birmingham

Sunday: Chelsea v Blackpool (1500GMT), Manchester United v Liverpool (1230GMT), Wigan v Manchester City