Time to beat one of the big four, admits Grant

Chelsea's manager feels pressure to claim a major scalp but victory over Arsenal today puts the title up for grabs

The trouble with having such an easily identifiable gang of four in a league of their own in English football is that success becomes a matter of beating each other. So routine are the other matches perceived to be that contests between the top four assume the importance of cup finals; fine for Sky Sports, especially when the games are doubled up like today at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford, but less fun for the managers.

"Can you tell us a big match that you have won?" Chelsea's manager, Avram Grant, was asked on Friday. The clear implication was that beating Manchester City 6-0 when City were third or winning 4-0 at West Ham counts for nothing these days; nor do all those gritty away wins at places such as Blackburn, Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Bolton. Grant, knowing what was behind the question, did not bother mentioning them, or even a 2-1 success at Valencia a fortnight after taking over.

Well aware that since he replaced Jose Mourinho, Chelsea have lost at Manchester United (2-0) and Arsenal (1-0) and been held at home by Liverpool, the best he could do was point to nine wins and four draws in 13 games since losing at the Emi-rates, and offer a reminder that last season Mourinho's team also failed to beat United or Arsenal in four attempts. It is little consolation either that Rafa Benitez's record against his rivals in the big four is so poor: four Premier League wins in 22 attempts.

Worse for Chelsea and Grant, he has lost two important cup games, to Tottenham and Barnsley, while the failure to kill off the thrilling game at White Hart Lane last Wednesday after leading 3-1 and 4-3 has forced the club into further denials that he will be sacked this summer.

"Peter Kenyon [Chelsea's chief executive] has made it very clear that nothing is contingent on winning the Champions' League or the Premier League," a spokes-man said. "That's why Avram has a four-year contract."

It is undeniable that his tactics and substitutions were questionable in the two Tottenham games, if less so at Barnsley, where the players simply did not perform. Had they not conceded the late equaliser to Robbie Keane amid the mayhem last Wednesday, before Dimitar Berbatov missed a chance to win the game for Spurs, Chelsea would be level on points with Arsenal going into today'sgame, and only two behind the leaders, United.

That is a position any sup-porter would have been happy with when a lugubrious Grant was introduced to a sceptical media last September, which is why he defends his overall record. He is even smiling more these days, and did so when defending his team's disciplinary record, claiming: "I think we are an exciting team playing good football. I don't think one person would say Chelsea are boring this year. We did a good job until the Carling Cup [final] and it was important to see what happened afterwards. The reaction was very good and we've scored many goals."

There have, indeed, been 15 of them in the subsequent four League games. Against the "wrong" teams, however. The ones that matter now are Ars-enal this afternoon and United, who visit Stamford Bridge late in April. "We intended it to be in our own hands," Grant said. Remarkably, and despite all the criticism, it still is.

Today's matches

Manchester Utd v Liverpool; Premier League, 1.30pm, Sky Sports 1

Gretna v Celtic; Scottish Premier, 2pm, Setanta 1

Chelsea v Arsenal; Premier League, 4pm, Sky Sports 1

News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
Sport
Sean Abbott
cricketSean Abbott is named Australia's young cricketer of the year
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea