Chelsea face crunch time for title ambitions

Chelsea winger Florent Malouda claims the reigning Premier League champions are rediscovering their best form just in time to retain the title.

Updated: April 22, 2011 11:15 IST
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London: Chelsea winger Florent Malouda claims the reigning Premier League champions are rediscovering their best form just in time to retain the title.

Malouda scored twice on Wednesday to help Chelsea beat Birmingham 3-1, which lifted the Blues into second spot in the Premier League and revived hope that they can stage a late-season charge to overhaul Manchester United.

Chelsea lie six points behind United going into Saturday's home London derby against West Ham, which is followed by a clash with Tottenham and then a potentially decisive trip to Old Trafford to face the leaders.

Victory in all three matches is essential if Chelsea are to catch United and Malouda believes the task is not beyond Carlo Ancelotti's team.

"The title race is open for the three teams and even though Arsenal drew, we are only second because of the goal difference," Malouda said.

"We have no choice but to win every game to put pressure on Man United. They have to play at Arsenal but we have to play our part by winning our games.

"We have to stay humble, we know where we are coming from. We had difficult moments we had to overcome to come back to the second place and now we have to play at our best level.

"We are out of the Champions League now and we have to give everything until the end of the season."

Malouda has been deployed as part of a three-man forward line for the past two games, along with Salamon Kalou and Didier Drogba, in a formation which helped them to the Premier League title last term.

The trio's eye for goal has meant Fernando Torres has played just 15 minutes off the bench in wins over West Brom then Birmingham.

And the struggling Spaniard is likely to remain on the bench for the West Ham game, such is the way the team is performing.

In contrast, Malouda claims he is in his best form of the season, adding: "Mentally and physically I feel strong again. When you score two goals in a game you feel you are back to your best form.

"Maybe it is because we have fewer games to play and we have more time to prepare, but I am working hard in training to prepare the best of my form and have the result in the games.

"It is great also to have the confidence of the players around me."

While Malouda is hopeful Chelsea can close the gap on United, Ancelotti was less effusive over whether his side can defend their Premier League title.

He said: "There are five games until the end of the season, our aim is to win every game and after that we can see where we are in the table.

"Everyone knows to close the gap of six points with five games is not easy. Our aim is to stay focused on the next five games, after that we can say the season was good or not good."

West Ham manager Avram Grant has a big incentive to stop his former club's title challenge as he tries to lift the east London outfit away from the relegation zone.

The Hammers are two points from safety, above bottom club Wolves, who have a game in hand, on goal difference alone.

Grant believes his side will be safe if they manage to win three of their last five games, which includes an away fixture at Manchester City following the Chelsea game, along with a trip to fellow strugglers Wigan.

"I think we need nine points to save ourselves," Grant said. "It will be difficult but it is possible.

"The next two games are very hard, but we are still not going to give up on them. So yes, our target is nine points."

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