Grant expects pressure to get to leaders if they lose today

Avram Grant is wary by nature. Chutzpah is in short supply. Not confident or gregarious, he prefers to do his work behind the scenes, mainly through his assiduous networking which has seen him rise without trace. Whispered conversations to movers-and-shakers have been his modus operandi for years. And so he was at his most comfortable yesterday when asked about when he first met Sir Alex Ferguson, rather than how he aimed to beat the most successful manager in modern club football.

That encounter came 15 years ago when Grant, then, and until recently, a little-known Israeli coach, spent a week at United's training ground observing and chatting. Today he will pit his wits against Ferguson and needs to earn a victory to keep the Premier League title race alive. Eventually the Chelsea manager ventured that, if his team is victorious, United's season may crumble.

"You saw what happened last week with games," he said of the three draws in their past five matches – including two in the Premier League – which he is using as evidence that a chink has been perceived in United's season. "It's not easy to play under this pressure. They've drawn twice in the last three games because we put this pressure on them. I'm optimistic by nature. Now we need to do our job, and it's not going to be easy. I'm always optimistic [that we'll win the title]. We are, again, in a position that if we win against them, anything can happen. We have to do that. It will be very difficult to do it, but anything is possible." If Chelsea triumph they will be level on points, although with a vastly inferior goal difference. If they lose it is game over. A draw? United would still be happy.

For Grant, a victory is a necessity and he reacted with humour when asked if a win would deliver a psychological blow to Ferguson both in the League and in Europe. "I'm not used to positive questions," he said. "If we win, we'll be very happy and we'd be happy at the end of the season. But first we need to win."

There is a huge difference between having to win and having not to lose, of course, and Chelsea's prospects – in the almost certain loss of Frank Lampard, who is grieving the death of his mother, Pat – rest on big games from Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack. Both have delivered, at times, this season with Drogba's performance in wresting victory away from Arsenal at Stamford Bridge not so long ago the greatest cause for optimism for Chelsea.

The striker wants to go and is almost certain to depart this summer, with Grant doing little to assuage the situation yesterday by questioning players leaking stories about their futures. But he needs a match-winning performance from Drogba, especially as he has summarily failed to bring the variations to Chelsea's game that he promised when he succeeded Jose Mourinho last September.

"It was a bit symbolic," Grant said, referring to that first-match loss at Old Trafford. "The game wasn't easy." He then went into a graceless rant at the performance of referee Mike Dean – who sent off the midfielder John Obi Mikel and later awarded United a penalty for a perceived foul on Louis Saha. "We didn't play badly," Grant said. "We lost to the referee. You remember the red card, the extra-time before half-time. I remember. Then there was a penalty that wasn't a penalty. There were a few strange decisions in that game. I always expect a fair referee, which we didn't have at United."

Today's official is Alan Wiley, who has been less inclined than other referees to dish out cards. It should, nevertheless, be a fiery encounter with Grant wary of a "proud team" who "come here to Stamford Bridge knowing that we're still in the fight." He added of Chelsea: "I see a team that's come from fifth to second place, showed a lot of spirit, mounted a good recovery. It's difficult to beat us and we've shown a lot. The pressure's good. I hope to have weeks like this all my life. It's an exciting week."

Defeat would drastically change that. "I'm sure you'll have the chance to ask if something negative happens," Grant said, "but I'm thinking positive."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before