Ranieri's last gamble

Four-goal Chelsea aim to overturn the odds against the men from Monaco
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The Independent Football

If Chelsea were to turn around their semi-final against Monaco and go on to win the Champions' League, perhaps Claudio Ranieri could yet be forgiven for his side's showing in the Premiership. In any event, he could be forgiven for tearing out the page in sport's book of phrase and fable that contains the saying: "Winning is everything, second is nowhere".

If the endless rumours are to be believed, the Italian is on the road to nowhere, or at least somewhere out of Stamford Bridge, even though his Chelsea side took a big step towards securing second place in the Premiership with their 4-0 home win over Southampton. All that stands between them and the runners-up spot is a trip to Old Trafford next Saturday to play Manchester United, their sole challengers for the honour of finishing the season behind only Arsenal. The draw Chelsea need from that fixture to make absolutely sure of second place does not seem beyond them after United lost for the second successive match, 1-0 at Blackburn Rovers.

Second is not good enough - even in the Champions' League. Chance would be a fine thing. After five games without a win, including the defeat at Monaco, it took an own goal from England's youth team captain, Martin Cranie, on his debut, to spark Chelsea into life. Two goals from Frank Lampard and one from Glen Johnson wrapped up the 4-0 victory. "Today we made a mistake and gave them a chance to score and then we went up the other end and scored an own goal - that is football, it is crazy, fantastic," Ranieri said."Now we are ready to try and take our [Champions' League] final chance. We must give our best performance and Monaco must do their worst, but everything is possible."

That is presumably what Roman Abramovich (and Chelsea's fans) thought when he opened his apparently bottomless wallet and wandered around the football supermarket picking players off the shelf. The Russian apparently has David Beckham in his shopping trolley, but even if he can persuade all the wheels to roll in the right direction, what would Chelsea's manager next season - Jose Mourinho or whoever - do with yet another midfielder? Sell some of the others, presumably.

Ranieri can select several possible line-ups. What appears shocking is his tinkering during matches, which went horribly wrong in the first leg against Monaco. But he said: "It is a manager's responsibility when changes do not work, but I would make changes like that again because that is my character. It is the way I work."

Lampard may yet find a way to work with Beckham by playing for England at Euro 2004. His club captain, John Terry, also looks set for a defensive role in Portugal after scans of Jonathan Woodgate's thigh revealed damage that will take two months to repair. One man's misfortune is another man's opportunity.

So it may be at Stamford Bridge, but whether or not May will see Ranieri saying goodbye to Chelsea, it will see Leicester City bid farewell to the Premiership as, in all probability, will Wolverhampton Wanderers, even though neither lost yesterday.