Chelsea prepare to crash party in crunch game

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The Independent Football

For Frank Lampard there was a feeling of déjà vu having been in an equivalent position back in September. "I don't know if 'unfortunate' is the word, but we played Man City when they'd just signed Robinho," he said. "There was a party atmosphere [at Eastlands] that day. Now we go to Newcastle, Shearer's returned, and it'll be a similar thing.

"It'll generate a huge atmosphere up there but it's also an important game for us and we need to use that atmosphere to our advantage," Lampard added. "There will be pressure on them because they're trying to stay up and they're fighting. But we badly need points to stay up at the top of the League."

Chelsea lost 1-0 at Tottenham in their last match before the international break which meant they failed to take advantage of Manchester United's defeat at Fulham on the same afternoon. Chelsea are now four points behind the champions, who also have a game in hand, and three adrift of Liverpool, who have played the same number of games. And after travelling to St James' Park, Chelsea are at Anfield for Wednesday's Champions League quarter-final, first-leg, tie with Liverpool.

"It's a massive spell of games," the Chelsea club captain, John Terry, said. "Newcastle's especially big after slipping up at Tottenham. So it will be good to get back on the right track, but with Alan Shearer taking over they are going to be full of beans and ready to go.

"We need to keep things tight in the first 10-15 minutes and not let the fans affect us, and not let them be the extra man," Terry added. "Alan Shearer is going to be pushing them to kick on but we are still fighting for the title so it will be a good clash."

At Manchester City in September Chelsea failed to follow Terry's plan, conceding a 13th-minute free-kick, scored by Robinho. But they swiftly equalised through Ricardo Carvalho and won 3-1.

Tony Pulis, manager of Newcastle's next opponents after Chelsea, Stoke City, is also wary of any Shearer effect. His team were beaten 4-1 by Newcastle in an FA Cup third-round replay at St James' Park last season just hours after Kevin Keegan had returned as manager.

"Newcastle at our place was always going to be a massive game. Alan's arrival will just make it even bigger," Pulis said. "How Newcastle could have people running their club from London was always beyond me."

So who should fill Big Al's boots on Match of the Day?

Andy Townsend

The perfect fit, if Match of the Day could poach him. Would bring to bear all the qualities that made Shearer the pundit he is: particularly the ability to run the bleedin'

obvious through his platitude filter until all that remains is the finest, purest dross.

Eric Cantona

Lee Dixon's fine. Martin Keown's all right. Alan Curbishley's OK. Gavin Peacock's good except he's off studying divinity. Iain Dowie's very good, but he's otherwise engaged. So why not be imaginative? Why not tempt Le Grande Eric away from the beach? Anyone but Ian Wright...

A tin of creosote

Have I Got News For You? famously employed a tub of lard when Roy Hattersley didn't turn up for a show. Rather than attempt to fill its Shearer-sized gap, would the BBC not be better advised just to stick a tin of his favourite wood-treatment product on the sofa between Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson? And mightn't they get more sense out of it than they ever did with its predecessor?

Chris Maume

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