Chelsea expect tight tussle with improving Reds

After Manchester United won in Turkey to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League on Tuesday, Sir Alex Ferguson said he was pleased his team could now concentrate on the domestic challenge of catching Chelsea.

The problem was 24 hours later Chelsea matched their qualification and can also focus on the Premier League. Unlike United, they do not even have the distraction of the Carling Cup. Tellingly the Chelsea players spent little time celebrating their now-routine European progress. Within an hour of Wednesday's despatch of Spartak Moscow they were turning their attention to Sunday's trip to Anfield.

"Liverpool away" does not have the menacing ring of old, not when Northampton and Blackpool have won on Merseyside this season, but the Chelsea players were quick to stress they will be treating their faltering rivals with the utmost respect, especially in the wake of Liverpool's recent League improvement.

Salomon Kalou, who laid on the critical opening goal for Nicolas Anelka on Wednesday, said: "Liverpool have not started the season well, but we know it's still going to be a tough game. They are still a big club with big players. If their players are on top form – and they are coming back to a good level – it is a difficult game.

"It's never easy to go to Anfield and win. We managed to do it near the end of last season which gave us a big boost, but in a match like this it doesn't matter about League positions.

"When Chelsea go to Liverpool there is always an edge. I think it started from Mourinho and Benitez. I wasn't at the club then but I have heard in the dressing room many times the story of the rivalry between the clubs in those Champions League games. Every game between us is tough."

Petr Cech echoed Kalou. "Liverpool have done well in recent games and got a bit of confidence back," he said. "They have something to build from and this is a massive game for them because they really want to show they can compete for the top four. But we go there top of the League, and we want to stay there."

"They will try to use this match as a reference point," added Didier Drogba. "It is an important match for them and they will give us a lot of problems. We have to know how to solve them."

Not much has troubled Chelsea so far this season. Even on nights when they play moderately for long periods, as on Wednesday, Carlo Ancelotti's side are too strong for most opponents. When Kalou said, "we can win every game, that's for sure," he was being realistic, not arrogant.

As if to underline that Kalou added: "That is as long as we keep working hard. There will be games when we lose or drop some points. But we have to enjoy where we are at the moment and remain as positive as possible. We are five points clear in the League and the goal is to be even further ahead by Christmas."

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