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Is a title challenge possible for Man Utd?

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Schalke fear 'key man' Drogba

The prophets of doom have been quick to condemn Chelsea after a month that would have brought even the most resolute of clubs to its knees, yet they have found an unlikely ally in the form of Schalke 04 striker, Kevin Kuranyi.

As if the shock departure of Jose Mourinho wasn't bad enough, the appointment of Avram Grant as his replacement was almost as big as blow to many who doubted the credentials of the Israeli, who could not be a more contrasting figure to the enigmatic character he replaced.

Throw in the fact that the Chelsea future of midfield talisman Frank Lampard is in doubt, along with the revelation that striker Didier Drogba is desperate to join a 'big club' and you have a recipe that would give many more than a touch of food poisoning.

However, Kuranyi is convinced the Chelsea spirit engineered by Mourinho remains in place and given the fact that they have continued to win games both at home and in the Champions League amid this apparent turmoil, his words are not without foundation.

Ahead of Schalke's visit to Stamford Bridge in what will be a crucial Champions League Group B fixture, Kuranyi believes the west Londoners are as dangerous as ever. 'Some may see this is a good time to be playing Chelsea because they are no longer dominant in the English league and Mourinho has gone, but you can't say that yet,' begins the Germany marksman.

'You read reports that there is some unrest in the Chelsea dressing room, but their greatest strength over the last few years has been an intense competitiveness. I cannot believe this spirit will go just because the manager is no longer there.

'Any group of players who are written off become doubly motivated to prove their critics wrong and I'm sure this is what will happen with Chelsea. The spirit Mourinho instilled in this team will still be in place and this is why they are still a major contender to win the Champions League.'

Kuranyi's believes the Chelsea's master plan of mixing high profile foreign talent with the traditions of the English game will continue to serve them well, even in the absence of their iconic manager.

'For me, Chelsea are the ultimate world team, with outstanding players from all over the planet, but their mentality is British in the sense that they obviously love a physical battle and keep pressing on for the full 90 minutes,' he continues. 'We have to match them blow-for-blow both physically and mentally.

'If you fail to stand up to them at any point in the game you will be punished. At their best they are a winning machine, one which gradually wears you down before going for the kill. This is going to be a massive test for us, but we are not exactly lightweights ourselves. Chelsea in first place and us second is my prediction for this group.

'They are wounded animals and after coming just short in previous Champions League campaigns, they must be focused on going all the way. Maybe the European title is be their priority for this season.'

An away day victory on Matchday Two of the Champions League against Valencia was proof that Chelsea are far from being a spent force in this season's competition, yet Kuranyi believes his side of underdogs are well equipped to challenge the Blues at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night and back on home soil two weeks from now.

'I think we have what it takes to hold Chelsea,' he states. 'We're compact, well-organised and strong on the counter-attack. Also, this team can handle the big occasion. We went into the lion's den away to Bayern Munich a few weeks ago and were resilient and opportunistic enough to come away with a 1-1 draw.

'The superstars aren't guaranteed to win every time. Sometimes pride and effort is effective. We've a lot of young, hungry players who really want to claim a big scalp and they don't come any bigger than Chelsea.

'The reality for us is that we need to pick up some points in these next two games against Chelsea. We put ourselves on the back foot straight away by losing at home to Valencia in our first Champions League game this season and now comes the moment to make our impact.

'To qualify, you're looking for close to a 100 per cent record on your own turf, plus five or so points from your travels, so you could say we were in the red from the off. Still, at least we've gone part of the way to making up for it by winning in Rosenborg, which was the only result that would do for us.

'Obviously, Chelsea are naturally big favourites to beat us. They are a team with more world-class talent than anyone has a right to have.'
Kevin Kuranyi, Schalke striker

'Obviously, Chelsea are naturally big favourites to beat us. They are a team with more world-class talent than anyone has a right to have, but it wouldn't be correct to say we will go into this game with nothing to lose.

'Valencia and us are competing for second-place in this group and by gifting Valencia three points in Gelsenkirchen, we've heaped a lot of pressure on ourselves. We have to make up the lost ground and that means achieving a result in Chelsea, though it goes without saying it will be tough.

'Still, German football is on a high at the moment and we have a duty to make sure it stays that way. Whether it is the national team or club sides, we're full of confidence and go onto the pitch fearing no one. We're not tentative any more.'

The aforementioned Drogba left few in any doubt that he was determined to get away from Chelsea at the end of this season in what amounted to an extraordinary interview with a French publication last week. At many clubs, such a stinging outburst would have signalled the instant end of his employment as a first team player, yet Chelsea are far too reliant on their Ivory Coast striker to contemplate such a measure.

By scoring in the Premier League against Middlesbrough at the weekend, Drogba provided compelling evidence that he is willing to perform at his best for the club even if this is to be his final season in a blue shirt and Kuranyi admits he is the man Schalke will fear when they come to London.

'I'm a big fan of Drogba,' he adds. 'He has all the pace, power and touch in the world and is definitely Chelsea's key man. He holds the ball up intelligently, scores great goals and generally causes havoc with his size and grit. Put him in any side and you'd have a big improvement. We clearly have to make sure he is not a factor.'

While Chelsea keep winning football matches, the wind trying to blow their pack of cards over will be kept at bay, but you get the feeling they are one unexpected gust away from yet another crisis in this extraordinary Stamford Bridge season.

Kevin Kuranyi and his Schalke 04 colleagues are more than capable of delivering that whirlwind this week.


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