Ranieri uses fear factor to fend off United threat

Claudio Ranieri, the Chelsea manager, will apply the fear factor to motivate his side ahead of a difficult trip to Aston Villa today. The Italian has already conceded the Premiership title to Arsenal, and yesterday he warned his squad that Manchester United "are a big shark" lurking behind them in third place and they "can still easily overtake us".

Claudio Ranieri, the Chelsea manager, will apply the fear factor to motivate his side ahead of a difficult trip to Aston Villa today. The Italian has already conceded the Premiership title to Arsenal, and yesterday he warned his squad that Manchester United "are a big shark" lurking behind them in third place and they "can still easily overtake us".

Ranieri rested Damien Duff, Wayne Bridge, the midfielder Scott Parker and Mario Melchiot for the goalless draw with Middlesbrough on Saturday, but will almost certainly recall them all at Villa Park, as well as the strikers Adrian Mutu and Hernan Crespo.

Ranieri is waiting for the results of a scan on Claude Makelele's knee injury after he was taken off following a second-half clash with Boro's Gaizka Mendieta, but he will not start with his fellow midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron, who has returned from injury.

Ranieri's Liverpool counterpart, Gérard Houllier, has admitted that the final 34 days of Liverpool's traumatic season are going to demand nerves of steel from everyone at Anfield.

Following Friday's 4-2 defeat by Arsenal, Houllier believes Liverpool may need to win all their remaining six games to secure a Champions' League spot, and the examination of his side's European pretensions starts at home to Charlton Athletic, who have slipped recently in their quest for fourth spot.

Victory over Charlton would put Liverpool three points clear of Newcastle United and maintain at least a three-point gap over Birmingham City, and keep them at least four points clear ofAston Villa, while Charlton would be left eight points adrift. A Liverpool win could virtually eliminate all but Newcastle from the battle, and if nothing else, make fifth place and Uefa Cup qualification a near certainty.

Houllier is unlikely to make any significant changes with Chris Kirkland (broken wrist), Steve Finnan (shoulder) and Anthony Le Tallec (ankle) still injured. Danny Murphy could come into contention in midfield while Vladimir Smicer, fit again after an Achilles injury, is likely to be added to the bench.

At the other end of the table, Blackburn Rovers have a chance to pull clear of the relegation pack at Fulham. There was, predictably, fighting talk from their manager, Graeme Souness. "This is a fight which is getting more interesting and it will sort the men out from the boys," he said. "You are either a proper player or someone who throws the towel in, and I believe I've a lot of people in my dressing-room who will roll their sleeves up."

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