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Burton Albion
Birmingham City
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Seconds out, round two

Poking fun at Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri has been a popular pastime for many a football follower in the last few months and he has not been helped by the resounding lack of support from those in positions of power at Stamford Bridge.

The affable Italian has taken the reality that he will be sacked whatever his side achieves in the next few weeks in his stride, yet you wonder how he will react to the jibes emanating from the Monaco camp ahead of Wednesday night's Champions League semi-final return leg in London.

The apparently-doomed Blues boss took full responsibility for his side's 3-1 reverse in the principality a couple of weeks ago after a series of bizarre substitutions handed ten-man Monaco the chance to snatch an unlikely two goal advantage.

The claim in some quarters that Ranieri deliberately sabotaged the Champions League ambitions of the club that has turned his professional life into an embarrassing farce may be fanciful, yet Monaco's Dado Prso admits his team mates were stunned by the Italian's tinkering.

With Chelsea apparently in control of the tie after establishing their superiority in the first half, Ranieri's decision to throw on a half-fit Juan Sebastian Veron and then ask striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to play as a right winger confused all observers, Prso included.

'Without being too hard on Ranieri, we could not understand what was happening in the second half,' states the Croatian international, whose opening goal started the Blues slide in Monaco. 'It was almost as if he wanted to give his side a challenge and hand us a chance to make the game interesting.

'He was right to admit he made several mistakes and I think Didier Deschamps proved he was the better coach on the night. In the second-half, the Chelsea players were looking at each other and asking what was going on. It was a shambles and we couldn't have asked for anymore.'

Monaco defender Gael Givet is less forgiving in his assessment of what was a crazy night for Ranieri. 'Chelsea were too greedy and paid a high price for it,' he states.

'When we went down to ten men, Ranieri thought we would be easy meat. That's why he took off a Melchiot, a defender, and put on a striker in Hasselbaink. Tactically, Chelsea were a mess and we took full advantage. There's a lot of fighting spirit in our team. We showed it against Real Madrid and were just as determined in the Chelsea game.

'We have a made a habit recently of raising our game in the second 45 minutes. Instead of reacting, we force the pace. That's what happened against Chelsea. We were stung into action by the sending off.'

The red card Givet refers to was handed out to Vassilis Zikos for his tussle with Claude Makalele. The aftermath of the incident has seen the Chelsea man condemned for his play acting, while referee Urs Meier has come in for criticism after failing to spot the Chelsea midfielder's dive and the incident is bound to ensure some ill-feeling between the sides on Wednesday night.

Ranieri: Mistakes in Monaco
Ranieri: Mistakes in Monaco

Throw in the blatant elbow Marcel Desailly delivered on Fernando Morientes and you have a recipe for a fiery return encounter. Chelsea will be without their French World Cup winning defender as a result of his flailing arm and the Monaco players are unforgiving.

'Desailly deserved to be suspended for his assault on Fernando,' confirms Shabani Nonda, the man whose third goal seven minutes from time leaves Chelsea with a mountain to climb.

'The referee missed the incident but the TV cameras didn't. He had to be punished. The field of play is not a boxing ring. In comparison, Zikos did next to nothing, but he left the field.

'For us, the red card was a wake up call. We were outraged and suddenly, there was a determination to fight against the odds. Normally a sending off is bad news, but this time, it provided us with the spark we needed.

'Chelsea thought it was all over after that incident, but this was a big mistake. When you don't respect your opponents, when you think everything is going your way, football has a habit of biting back.

'We are, of course, in a strong position at 3-1 ahead, but it's not over yet. In London, we must not play as we did in the first-half in Monaco. We let them play too much and didn't exactly follow the instructions of our manager. We were treating the match like a run of the mill French League game rather than a Champions League semi.'

The prolific Morientes may hold the key for the French side as a solitary away goal will leave Ranieri's men with a mountain to climb. He confirmed his class with a stunning finish for Monaco's second goal and his link-up with winger Jerome Rothen is a threat to the Blues.

'We can't assume we will be in the Final,' adds Rothen. 'If we concede early in the second-leg, the whole complexion of the tie could change. Chelsea will come at us with everything they have and their fans will be intimidating.

'If we spend too much time camped in our own box, anything could happen. We'll have to be physically strong, to show the same intensity as them when challenging for the ball. In Monaco, Chelsea tried to out-muscle us but we kept coming back for more. As the game went on, we were much stronger.'

The game provides Ranieri with last chance to embarrass the men who will terminate his employment him in the next few weeks, but you suspect the damage has already been done by an Italian who has tinkered once too often.