LONDON (AFP) – Petr Cech insists Chelsea can cope with the demands of challenging for a Premier League and Champions League double as the Blues face Sunderland at the start of an eight-day period that could define their season.
Jose Mourinho’s side go into the latest round of Premier League matches in second place, two points behind leaders Liverpool.
Victory at Stamford Bridge over bottom of the table Sunderland will ensure Chelsea increase the pressure on Liverpool, who travel to Norwich the following day.
Mourinho’s men will temporarily claim top spot if they beat Sunderland, leaving them in control of their own destiny in the title race ahead of the crucial trip to face Liverpool at Anfield on April 27.
Chelsea’s position was strengthened in midweek by Gus Poyet’s Sunderland who held third placed Manchester City to a draw at Eastlands, four days after City had lost at Liverpool.
But the west Londoners also have a European campaign to consider however, as they travel to Atletico Madrid for the first leg of the Champions League semi-final next Tuesday.
The coming days will test the depth of Mourinho’s squad, although Eden Hazard is the only significant injury concern and the Belgian winger could yet recover in time to face Sunderland.
Hazard missed last weekend’s victory at Swansea after limping out of the Champions League win over Paris Saint Germain and will not be risked with the Atletico game looming.
Chelsea’s Czech Republic goalkeeper Cech believes the squad possesses enough experience and know-how to handle the test ahead.
“It’s very tough to play three huge games in a row but that’s why we are a top club,” he said.
- ‘Forget about opposition’ -
Meanwhile, Poyet has never given up hope that Sunderland will escape relegation this season, although even the manager admitted to doubts before their fine performance at City.
They achieved a 2-2 draw which won’t alter his belief that a major overhaul of the club is required, but it is possible they will still be a Premier league club next season when Poyet hopes to start the transformation.
“It was an excellent performance by us against City,” Poyet said.
“It’s the sort of performance which going to give us confidence. I don’t like using that word, but it is true.
“It will give us a bit of hope against Chelsea. Now the players will believe they might get something.
“We have to think about ourselves in these games against the top teams. We have to think about passing, creating, defending, running and tackling.
“We have to forget about the opposition and concentrate on ourselves. It is not easy but we achieved that against City and we have to do that in the remaining games.
“We have to concentrate on what we might do right, rather than what the opposition might do right.”
Sunderland were denied a victory at Eastlands by a late mistake by their goalkeeper, Vito Mannone, who has been one of their outstanding individuals in an unhappy season.
Mannone will retain his place at Stamford Bridge in a Sunderland side that is likely to be unchanged since Phil Bardsley, their defender, remains suspended.
Connor Wickham, scorer of both goals at City, has virtually guaranteed himself a place in the side for their remaining games of the season.
The striker was loaned out to Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds earlier this season, but has impressed since being recalled.
“When I came to the club there were five or six strikers, so it was impossible to play them all,” Poyet said.
“Connor was young so I let him go out on loan and he did well so we brought him back. If he delivers, he keeps playing — it’s that simple.”