United ahead of us because of ref, claims Grant

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The Independent Football

At Chelsea they have a taste for conspiracy theories and compiling dossiers, and it transpired yesterday that another case file of video clips claiming to show victimisation by referees is going to be presented to the Football Association, as the club prepares to fight a second charge of failing to control their players.

Manager Avram Grant has certainly taken his cue from his predecessor Jose Mourinho, who famously kept cuttings about Arsne Wenger, in listing perceived injustices.

Grant went further yesterday, in claiming that the sole reason Chelsea are below Manchester United in the Premier League table was officialdom.

"If you look at it, the difference between us and United is two points and that is down to the referee," he said.

That claim was in relation to his team's reaction following the dismissal of John Obi Mikel at Old Trafford in September, when John Terry and others crowded around referee Mike Dean. Chelsea were charged and fined 30,000.

Last weekend Michael Essien was sent off, and seven players, led again by Terry, surrounded Andre Marriner.

Chelsea's claim is that while they are being charged by the FA, other teams go unpunished despite there being more evidence of behaving badly. One example in the dossier is the behaviour of Arsenal and Wigan Athletic players, who crowded Peter Walton last weekend without the FA taking any action.

Chelsea have got until 12 December to gather their defence. One reason why they are taking a robust stance is because they fear a far greater punishment this time than was meted out earlier this season, given their history of such incidents, which include last season's League Cup final when Arsenal were also guilty, and two episodes last year.

Yesterday Grant also continued to rail against a third red card, for Didier Drogba, and dismissed claims made by Alan Curbishley, manager of today's opponents West Ham United, that the "big four" clubs receive preferential treatment from referees.

"It's a psychological war. It's OK," Grant said of Curbishley's claim. "But you can see the facts. Three red cards against us in the last three months, and none of them was a red card. If that means we're 'privileged', I don't want to think what the alternative is."

One at Chelsea who is certainly not feeling privileged beyond his 121,000-a-week salary is Andrei Shevchenko. Grant conceded that the best the 31-year-old striker could hope for at present is to be Drogba's under-study, but continued to claim that Shevchenko is happy. "I'll ask him and will let you know," he said. "I want everybody to be happy, but I can't ask him every day.

"Even big players do not play all the time. He's training well, enjoying it. I'm sure he'll be useful. The bench is very important. It's not easy [for him in this system], but you can play 4-3-3 many different ways: long balls, short passes, attacking or defensive. The system we play at the moment, we won't play the whole season."

It was hardly a ringing endorsement of a player who Grant said deserved to be treated "well" because "he's one of the biggest strikers in the history of football". Mourinho didn't accord that respect one reason behind his difficult relationship with Roman Abramovich and although Grant is careful not to go down the same path, neither is he playing the 30m man any more than his predecessor.

Shevchenko has made four starts in Grant's 14 games: the first two, against Leicester City in the League Cup, and away to Derby.

The manager admitted that, with the African Nations Cup looming, he is taking a hard look at his options including how to cope without Drogba.

It could be Shevchenko's chance, but Grant wasn't being drawn partly because the likelihood is that he and the club are looking to buy another striker, a midfielder and a right-back.