Cup-tie magic lures Abramovich to end exile from Bridge

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The Independent Online

The FA Cup may not possess the lustre it used to but that old Cup magic does appear to have lured Roman Abramovich back to Stamford Bridge. The Russian will be in his executive box for today's fifth-round tie with Norwich. While Chelsea have insisted nothing sinister should be read into their owner's absence from recent matches, the mere fact his return has been discussed in advance shows its importance.

The reappearance of Abramovich has been almost as anxiously awaited at Chelsea as that of Petr Cech and John Terry, after his absence fuelled reports of a growing estrangement with the manager, Jose Mourinho. Abramovich admitted in a recent interview that his relationship with Mourinho was not warm.

The club have pointed out the demands of Abram-ovich's extensive business interests but in the past he has made every effort to attend matches. Moreover, he has recently been seen watching football in Israel.

Steve Clarke, Mourinho's assistant, yesterday said: "He's been away on business, no matter what anybody else says. He's been very busy and has had other things he's had to do, but he's back and we look forward to seeing him.

"I don't think there's any question that he's committed to Chelsea Football Club - he's proven that since he took over the mantle from Ken Bates. Not that he has to prove anything.

"If he's there, maybe people will stop speculating as to why he's back in Russia, taking care of business. If you're worth that amount of money, there has to be a time when you look after your business."

Clarke's future has also been the subject of speculation. It has been claimed Abramovich wanted to replace him. Clarke's contract expires at the end of the season but the Scot said: "I've been at this club 18 of the last 20 years, and I see no reason why they should want to get rid of me."

Also returning, after illness, is Ricardo Carvalho. This will enable Mourinho to start his preferred centre-back pairing, the Portuguese and Terry, for the first time in 2007.

It is a daunting comparison for Dion Dublin, Norwich's veteran, to face. Dublin, who is likely to be in defence today, is one of only two survivors in this fifth round from the last FA Cup tie played at Wembley, the 2000 final. Chelsea won then but all their team have gone. Dublin and George Boateng, whose Middlesbrough team play West Bromwich today, were in the defeated Aston Villa side. Terry was an unused Chelsea substitute.

"We're not going there with the white flag, we're going there to win the game," said Norwich's manager, Peter Grant. "There have not been many shocks in the competition so far, and these two clubs were playing each other in the league not too long ago."

Grant, who was assistant manager at West Ham when they reached last season's final, added: "Chelsea are a phenomenal attacking force who score fabulous goals and we've got to try to make them defend as much as possible.

"People in the Premier League seem to be talking about their weaknesses at the minute, saying, 'They don't do this well, they don't do that well', but I don't see many teams taking advantage. We know there are certain things we can exploit but to do that we've got to have the ball and be brave in possession."

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