LONDON:Avram Grant believes Chelsea can deliver the final blow to Liverpool's spluttering Premier League title challenge in Sunday's clash at Stamford Bridge.
Grant is usually keen to avoid the kind of pre-match fireworks so beloved of his predecessor Jose Mourinho, but the Israeli emerged from his shell for once to write off Liverpool's hopes of ending their 18-year wait for league success.
The Reds are 17 points behind leaders Arsenal after a dismal run of one win in six matches and a loss to Grant's third placed side would kill them off once and for all.
"It is too far for them, it is too many points. I cannot say they are out of the title race because in football anything can happen, but it will be very hard for them," Grant said.
Rafa Benitez's men will travel to London more in hope than expectation. They have yet to score a goal at Chelsea in seven attempts since the Spanish coach took over in 2004 and crashed out of the League Cup there earlier this season.
With Fernando Torres sidelined after suffering an injury playing for Spain in midweek, Liverpool will be missing their striking talisman, but despite dismissing their title hopes, Grant is cautious about facing the Reds.
"Liverpool are a top club and it is never easy to play against them so I think it will be a difficult game, very difficult," he said.
"When two clubs play together you always think of something from the past, but of course I don't have a problem with Liverpool. My only concern is that Chelsea succeed.
"Whether we win or we draw on Sunday, football is a strange game, sometimes you are very sure of yourself and you lose and sometimes you don't, so anything can happen."
Chelsea are unbeaten in 75 league games at the Bridge and will make it four years without a defeat at their west London home if they avoid a loss on Sunday.
In truth Grant's side can't afford anything but a win as they try to keep the pressure on Arsenal, who are currently six points clear of the Blues.
The Chelsea manager will be boosted by the return to fitness of England midfielder Frank Lampard, back from a thigh injury and available to start for the first time since December 26.
Nigeria midfielder John Obi Mikel is back in the squad after African Nations Cup duty, but Michael Essien, Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou - all also in action in Ghana - will not be back in time to feature.
Torres's absence leaves Peter Crouch to shoulder the burden of Liverpool's attacking threat.
Crouch impressed for England against Switzerland on Wednesday after coming on as a second half substitute and has the added motivation of wanting to make up for his red card at Chelsea in the League Cup.
The former Aston Villa forward, whose father is a Chelsea fan, was dismissed for an ugly two-footed challenge on Mikel in the quarter-final tie this season, but he is only focused on helping his team rather than gaining personal revenge.
"It's a big game next for us at Chelsea. We will go into that game with more confidence," Crouch said.
"We are good enough to beat Chelsea, we have done it before and I am sure we can do it again although it will be a difficult game.
"This is a big one for both of us. They want to challenge Arsenal and Manchester United and we have got to make sure we keep our momentum going."
Liverpool will be without suspended midfielder Xabi Alonso, while Andriy Voronin, Daniel Agger, Alvaro Arbeloa and Fabio Aurelio are all injured.