Frank Lampard yesterday responded to Sir Alex Ferguson's claim that he fancies Manchester United to overhaul Premier League leaders Chelsea in the new year by saying it is the champions who should be feeling worried.
Ferguson attempted to prey on Chelsea concerns about how they will cope with the loss of Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, John Obi Mikel and Salomon Kalou to the African Nations Cup next month by highlighting United's tradition of being the strongest side in the second half of the league season. The Manchester United manager said: "If we get to January within touching distance of the leaders then we're in with a great chance."
Lampard's response was to claim United should fear the challenge of Chelsea, who lead by three points, and in the second half of last season were the most in-form team in the country once Guus Hiddink came in to replace Luiz Felipe Scolari as manager in February.
The Chelsea and England midfielder said the first-team squad were determined not to repeat the mistakes of a season ago, when their challenge went astray around the turn of the year. Lampard said: "If we're in touching distance of them, then they might worry about us. They know we can put a run together, we did it last year.
"We had a really bad time around this time last year, but when Hiddink came in we were in the best form by far of anyone in the league. We can do that again. We know it's a mind game. Fair enough United have a history of doing it, but we've had a history of doing it as well. We're very determined this year."
Chelsea needed a late penalty from Lampard to beat bottom club Portsmouth 2-1 on Wednesday night. The victory could not mask what was another nervous defensive display by the league leaders, conceding a goal from Frédéric Piquionne following a free-kick.
Lampard said the victory, which came after four games without a win, sets Chelsea up for the Christmas period. "It's very important we keep picking up points and it was one of those games where the win was all that mattered," he said.
"We're having a patch at the moment where we're not pulling away from teams when we might do and every free-kick and corner seems to drop to them in a funny way. We are being punished every time and it is just a phase we're in. We went a long time without conceding goals and that was fantastic, but now we're having a patch where we are. It's important we just keep going. We're three points clear at the top of the league. We need to pick up wins."
John Terry believes the club can still reach 90 points and walk away with the title. "We should be further ahead at the top of the league and we only have ourselves to blame," Terry said. "I understand everyone feeling frustrated, our defending of set-plays was unacceptable. Now it's down to us to put that right. We're still on target for 90 points this season and we're the only club which is."