"I don't know if any other club could cope with the difficult year we have had," Avram Grant said, exuding calm, belying the pressure that comes with being nearly halfway through the most significant month to date of his professional career. "We have had the African Nations Cup, injuries . . . even the managerial change in September affected us, because we had injuries then."
The Chelsea manager's way of dealing with whatever pressure there exists is to regard it as a companion. He takes his team into tonight's match against Wigan Athletic at Stamford Bridge knowing that victory is imperative to reduce Manchester United's lead at the top of the Premier League table back to three points. They visit Goodison Park on Thursday and another three points against Everton would move them level with the champions, albeit possibly only until United play again on Saturday. They also have the small matter of a Champions League semi-final against Liverpool to contend with.
Grant views his improving fortunes with a degree of pleasure – "This is the best position we have been in since I took over" – and believes that he has surprised everybody except for himself.
There is no avoiding the perception that, whatever Chelsea's results against Wigan tonight and at Everton on Thursday, the match at Stamford Bridge against United on 26 April will be the defining fixture of the entire Premier League season. Pressure?
"I believe that no man is a computer and everybody reacts to pressure," Grant said. "Sometimes you can react well to pressure, in a positive way, sometimes not. Any team, any player, sometimes even the big players, can perform not like they are supposed to because of pressure. If we win our next two matches, the match after that is Manchester United at home; then we are in a good position. We have come so far, and we are so close, that we do not want to miss out."
Grant has not ruled Petr Cech, the Chelsea goalkeeper, out of contention, although it will be a surprise if anyone other than Hilario, the club's third-choice goalkeeper, will occupy that position against Wigan.
Both Cech and Carlo Cudicini are injured, although Cech could be in contention for the match against Everton. Steve Bruce, the Wigan manager, can recall the two midfield players, Michael Brown and Jason Koumas, who are available after suspension.
Chelsea's final fixtures
Tonight Wigan (h)
Thursday Everton (a)
26 April Man Utd (h)
5 May Newcastle (a)
11 May Bolton (h)Reuse content