LONDON: Chelsea kept the pressure on league leaders Arsenal and second-placed Manchester United by whipping Charlton Athletic 4-1 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
The Blues are now five points behind the Gunners, who played Birmingham yesterday, and three adrift of Manchester United – Chelsea’s next league opponents.
And Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri insisted that next Saturday’s trip to Old Trafford holds no fears for his team as they go in search of a first top flight title in nearly 50 years.
“I’m not worried. We are ready for Manchester United,” the Italian said. “They have a great squad and Chelsea want to be compared to them.”
Goals from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, William Gallas and Eidur Gudjohnsen put Chelsea 3-0 up before the 40-minute mark against London rivals Charlton, who drop down a place to 14th spot.
Addicks striker Jason Euell then gave the visitors a toehold with a 42nd-minute penalty.
But after the break Chelsea’s former England full-back Graeme Le Saux netted as the Blues found their form after two defeats over the Christmas period.
“In the last five matches, we lost two, won two and drew one. Seven points is good, not fantastic, but good,” Ranieri added.
Iceland striker Gudjohnsen is also refusing to give up on the chances of Chelsea claiming their first top division crown since they won the old First Division title back in the 1954-55 season.
“We have to keep our form up and put the pressure on. I don’t agree we’re out of it,” Gudjohnsen insisted.
The Blues have struggled in recent seasons to beat the likes of Charlton, who had enjoyed 1-0 wins on their last two trips to Stamford Bridge.
But Gudjohnsen said a change of mindset had helped Chelsea overcome teams below them in the league. “We look at every game as three points to be won. We concentrate on our jobs first, then the opposition.”
Deflated Charlton manager Alan Curbishley admitted Chelsea were too much for them on this occasion.
“There was a bit of steely determination from them. They feel they can’t get beat now by the lesser sides.”
Chelsea have the Premiership’s meanest defence this season and after the Blues’ early double strike Curbishley knew the game was over.
The match got off to a flying start when a shove on Hasselbaink from Chris Powell handed Chelsea a penalty with only one minute and forty-five seconds gone.
Hasselbaink took the spot-kick himself and struck it low to the left to give the home side a dream start.
After a through-ball from Emmanuel Petit, France defender Gallas made it two on 10 minutes when he spun and blasted a shot across Dean Kiely in the Charlton goal.
France midfielder Petit set up a third after jinking into the box and picking out Gudjohnsen whose shot deflected off Luke Young on its way into the net.
Charlton gave themselves hope before the break with Euell’s penalty after another of Chelsea’s France internationals, Marcel Desailly, had tugged at Kevin Lisbie in the box.
But any thought of an Addicks revival faded away eight minutes into the second half when Le Saux and the luckless Kiely conspired to produce a goal that will haunt the Irish goalkeeper.
Le Saux’s shot was hard but straight at Kiely, who instead of catching it cleanly, inexplicably palmed it into his own net to seal Charlton’s fate. – AFP