Chelsea's verve tempered by caution

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The Independent Football

Chelsea go into tonight's Uefa Cup first-round second leg against St Gallen here with levels of motivation they would probably not have thought possible a fortnight ago. Then, as they laboured to a 1-0 first-leg win at Stamford Bridge, the atmosphere at the club in the wake of Gianluca Vialli's dismissal - especially among the supporters - was funereal.

Chelsea go into tonight's Uefa Cup first-round second leg against St Gallen here with levels of motivation they would probably not have thought possible a fortnight ago. Then, as they laboured to a 1-0 first-leg win at Stamford Bridge, the atmosphere at the club in the wake of Gianluca Vialli's dismissal - especially among the supporters - was funereal.

Now, not least because of the weekend's spirited 3-3 comeback against Manchester United, the Blues have strikers intent on earning their places through good performances, revitalised defender Graeme Le Saux with one eye on a recall to the England squad and a new coach, Claudio Ranieri, who has already made strides in impressing his philosophy on the team. "He was a very good coach when I played for him nine years ago, now he has eight more years of experience," said Gianfranco Zola, who played for Ranieri at Napoli. "Those years have been very good for him and I'm sure they have improved him. He knows the job. He has huge respect and I'm sure his experience can help us all to improve."

Under Vialli, Zola had increasingly found himself left on the bench, but he denied yesterday that he had had anything to do with his previous manager's departure, despite suggestions that he himself was being lined up to take over. "Personally I don't think that suggestion was serious," said the 34-year-old striker. "If you're a footballer, you can't be a manager and for the moment I still think I'm good at playing football. My conscience is okay. I tried to do my best for Luca, as I did for Ruud Gullit, and I'm going to try to do the same for Claudio Ranieri."

In what could be an attacking formation tonight, Zola may start as one of three front men, either playing alongside Tore Andre Flo (and slightly behind Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink) or as part of a two-man attack with Hasselbaink.

If the latter scenario unfolds then Flo, who played his first 90 minutes of the season as Chelsea came back from 3-1 down to draw at Old Trafford, would play wider and drop back.

At least two changes from last weekend are likely. Marcel Desailly has a muscle strain and will not play, and he joins the long-term injured trio of Ed de Goey, Mario Stanic and Gustavo Poyet in the treatment room. There could be a recall for Dennis Wise, depending on the outcome of a fitness test. "Dennis has a lion's character," Ranieri said yesterday. "He wants to be available and wants to play but I will make the decision when I see him with my own eyes."

Ranieri added that his main message for his team tonight is to be cautious. "In the Uefa Cup, you make one mistake and you're out," he said. "Concentration and motivation are vital for this game. If we are to be a great team we have to be able to play well against any opposition, but it will be difficult because St Gallen play like an Italian side - they are very well organised and good on the counter-attack."

Manchester United, of course - games against PSV Eindhoven aside - are not bad on the attack themselves and Le Saux, the man of the match at Old Trafford, feels last weekend was a turning point. "We showed great character to come back against United and we knew we had it in us," he said. "We've shown that it doesn't take a lot to get us back on track."

Chelsea (possible, 4-4-2): Cudicini; Panucci, Bogarde, Leboeuf, Le Saux; Flo, Di Matteo, Wise, Morris; Zola, Hasselbaink.

St Gallen (possible, 4-4-2): Stiel; Pinnelli, Imhof, Zwyssig, Thuler; Winkler, Nixon, Muller, Contini; Gaene, Amoah.

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