Chelsea ready for toughest test

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The Independent Football

It is more than 40 years since an English club overturned a two-goal first-leg lead in the European Cup, or Champions' League as it is now known. That is a measure of the task facing Chelsea against Monaco at Stamford Bridge tonight.

It is more than 40 years since an English club overturned a two-goal first-leg lead in the European Cup, or Champions' League as it is now known. That is a measure of the task facing Chelsea against Monaco at Stamford Bridge tonight.

Claudio Ranieri yesterday admitted it was his eagerness to avoid such a predicament that drove him to make the much-criticised tactical changes which presaged the 3-1 first-leg defeat in Monte Carlo. "Monaco have a very good record away from home and I knew the second leg would not be easier for us," said the Chelsea manager. "That is why I tried to win the game in Monaco and made my mistake."

Unfortunately, in playing adventurously against Monaco after they had been reduced to 10 men, Ranieri effectively turned that match into an away tie for Monaco. They defended deep, counter-attacked, and scored twice.

At least Chelsea know what to expect tonight and are likely to be more cautious going forward. They will also be bolstered by the return of William Gallas, the squad's quickest defender. In the first tie the pace of Ludovic Guily and Shabani Nonda caused Chelsea problems. "His recovery is very important for us," said Ranieri adding, in a reference to his goalkeeper, "as is Carlo Cudicini's."

This emphasis on defence may seem strange given Chelsea need to score but another Monaco goal would make the task extremely difficult. Chelsea need to defend well. With 25 goals in 11 matches Monaco are the competition's leading scorers.

When it comes to offensive play Ranieri will add Joe Cole to midfield in the hope he finds openings for Hernan Crespo and Eidur Gudjohnsen. "I believe in Joe," Ranieri said. "He has a brilliant future. It's important he tries to do everything very, very calmly."

In Cole's case Ranieri means considering the sensible option before playing the eye-catching one but, given the furore over Claude Makelele's play-acting in the first match, which prompted the dismissal of Andreas Zikos, cool heads will be required throughout. With Makelele suspended Géremi is expected to partner Frank Lampard in the centre, Scott Parker making up the midfield. With Parker and Gallas just returned from hamstring strains Ranieri is unlikely to risk Glen Johnson or Juan Sebastian Veron, both of whom have been injured, in the starting line-up.

Ranieri admitted he felt quite "emotional" about the match given his imminent departure, a fact which, he said with a sanguine air, winning the competition would not change. "I don't want to put myself out of Chelsea. I am out. But I want to win because I am ambitious, not because of what everybody knows is about to happen." Ranieri hinted that he knew the identity of his replacement (believed to be Porto's Jose Mourinho) who would inherit "very strong foundations". Whether Ranieri also bequeaths him the title of European champions is less likely.

The last English team to reverse a two-goal disadvantage was Tottenham Hotspur in 1961. The Double-winners thrashed Gornik Zabrze 8-1, Cliff Jones scoring a hat-trick, having lost the first leg 4-2. In the semi-final, however, they could not overturn Benfica's 3-1 first-leg lead.

There have since been several similar failures, including three further semi-finals. There is unhappy precedent for Chelsea. Four years ago they beat Barcelona 3-1 in the quarter-final at home only to lose the second leg 5-1 after extra-time. Then there are the examples of Monaco and Deportivo La Coruña in this season's quarter-finals.

"We must use them as an inspiration," Lampard said. Terry added: "This will be a big test of our character. The manager makes decisions and picks the team but once we are on the pitch it is totally in the players' hands and we are to blame as well for how it went over there. We were all disappointed but we have a chance to put it right."

A dramatic comeback would enhance Ranieri's reputation, which took a buffeting in Monaco, and his chances of a moving into a similar high-level post. Not that he saw it that way. "I don't think there is a bad reputation about myself," he said. "I believe everybody can make mistakes. Very few men can say: 'I made mistakes'. I am one of these. The best manager is the one who makes the least mistakes. I think my players still believe in me because they show me that. I feel a good relationship."

Most importantly Ranieri said he had not lost his nerve. The Chelsea manager's next substitution will be his 150th of the season. Expect it to be tonight. Expect it to be bold. "Against Monaco I will have to make some very important decisions during the game," he said. "Don't worry, I will do it."

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