Football: Chelsea plan to overcome Olsen obstacle

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The Independent Online
HISTORY IS on Chelsea's side, but it may be an unreliable ally in tonight's European Cup- Winners' Cup quarter-final first leg at home to Valerenga. Although the Oslo club's record in European competition is wretched, they have been revitalised since the arrival six months ago of Graham Taylor's nemesis, the former Norway coach Egil Olsen.

After retiring from international football following last year's World Cup finals, having beaten Brazil twice, Italy and Taylor's England in the course of transforming his country's fortunes, the bespectacled lecturer and former political activist lifted Valerenga from the bottom of their league to finish seventh. Olsen's favoured direct style of play then brought the club a first win in eight seasons of European football, on away goals over Rapid Bucharest, to be followed by a remarkable comeback against John Toshack's Besiktas: 3-0 down at half-time in Istanbul, they fought back to draw the game and win the tie.

That second leg, at the beginning of November, was Valerenga's last competitive match, which must be something of a disadvantage. They have been warming up, in every sense, in La Manga, where Chelsea scouts watched them play three games and were particularly impressed by John Carew, a tall 19-year- old striker probably destined for a lucrative move abroad. "Carew is faster than their defenders, so we could easily get a goal on the break," Olsen boasted.

Carew has played for Norway in their last four internationals, alongside Chelsea's Tore Andre Flo, who said yesterday: "He is a good striker and they will be a very well organised team. It will be a difficult match for us. Egil Olsen likes to wait for the opposition to make mistakes, but he's a very good manager and I really respect what he's doing. They will sit back, kick the ball into the other half and play from there. They have tall, strong players, who can match us physically. So we have to play better football than them."

The huge Continental influence in whichever team Gianluca Vialli puts out ought to help do that, though the player-manager would be more confident if Chelsea, beaten only once in three months, had not made such hard work of their two previous ties in this season's competition, also against Scandinavian opposition. They defeated Helsingborg of Sweden only 1-0 at home, then hung on for a grim goalless draw in the return. In the second round, Marcel Desailly equalised in the last minute against FC Copenhagen to preserve a 40-year-old unbeaten home record in Europe, before Brian Laudrup won the tie in Denmark.

Laudrup then joined the Danish club, effectively in part-exchange for Bjarne Goldbaek, who had scored his team's goal at Stamford Bridge. That means Goldbaek is ineligible tonight, along with the young Finnish striker Mikael Forssel, who appeared in the Champions' League for HJK Helsinki.

Dennis Wise, currently serving another domestic suspension after his fourth red card of the season, has played about as often as Valerenga recently, but is in the squad this evening. He must compete for one of the four midfield places with Dan Petrescu, Roberto Di Matteo, Jody Morris and Celestine Babayaro.

Although the Norwegians, regular Match of the Day viewers, will be well aware how of to wind up Graeme Le Saux, there is no suggestion of the England full-back being left out. Vialli's only other decision is, therefore, which two strikers to start with from himself, Flo and Gianfranco Zola.

It is a testing week for Chelsea, who will be unable to devote any attention to their FA Cup opponents, Manchester United, until tomorrow morning at the earliest. Having ensured that they did not fall any further behind United at the top of the Premiership last weekend, however, Vialli sends them into tonight's game saying: "I wouldn't change Chelsea's situation with anybody else's. The more you've got to play for, the better you perform. So let's try to win everything."

Vialli would not be drawn significantly on the role of Ray Wilkins, who has been working with the players and is tipped to step in if Graham Rix, the assistant manager, should go to prison as a result of his court case. "He wants to get back into shape," said Vialli of the former Chelsea club captain. "He's a Chelsea fan so it's nice to have him here. He can help us out in different ways, though he still has something to sort out with Fulham." Wilkins was sacked by Chelsea's ambitious neighbours towards the end of last season after only seven months as team manager.

Valerenga have a new goalkeeper in the Finn, Miko Kaven, signed from Motherwell to stand in for the long-term injury victim Tore Krogstad, while the midfielder Bjorn Viljugrein is out with a knee injury.

CHELSEA (probable): De Goey; Ferrer, Desailly, Leboeuf, Le Saux; Petrescu, Wise, Di Matteo, Babayaro; Flo (or Vialli), Zola.

More football, pages 26, 27