Avram Grant insists he never doubted he would silence the critics who claimed he had no chance at Chelsea.
When Grant took charge in the aftermath of Jose Mourinho’s dramatic departure in September, it seemed the Israeli coach would find it hard to last a month if one listened to the cynicism that greeted his appointment.
It was said that he was little more than a puppet for the owner, Roman Abramovich, and would be unable to win over a group of players mostly loyal to Mourinho.
But Grant, whose side host Everton on Sunday, has quietly overseen an impressive run of results that has catapulted Chelsea back into the title race.
The Blues have been unbeaten in 10 matches since his opening defeat to Manchester United, and Grant believes people will now be looking towards him with more respect than when he first took over the club.
”Maybe for some people it has been a surprise, but I think it is a good surprise,” he said. ”I think in the last three games we have played a very high quality; not even one team, including Man United or Arsenal, have played better than us.
”We continue to play well. I think you have seen the team progress in their football. You know my vision, and I will follow that. It will not come in one day, but we have good staff here now and I am happy.
”We saw Everton’s Uefa Cup game and they were very good. It could be a very difficult game, but it will only be my third game at Stamford Bridge so it is good to be home.”
Ashley Cole should feature on Sunday after recovering from an ankle injury. The defender has not played in the Premier League since the beginning of October but he returns this weekend.
Captain John Terry is still missing and has been left out of the England squad due to his knee injury, but he should return in two weeks. Goalkeeper Petr Cech is sidelined with a calf injury.
Everton have picked up eight wins out of their past 10 matches, and, like Chelsea, are also high on confidence.
A midweek 2-0 Uefa Cup victory over Nuremberg has given defender Phil Neville a belief that they should attack Grant’s side.
”I don’t think we have ever gone down to Stamford Bridge in better form or with as much confidence,” he said. ”We can go on Sunday with the confidence that, although they have quality players, let’s give it a go and see where that takes us. If we get a point or three points, then brilliant. That will mean we are improving.
”In the past we have gone down there and had real backs to the wall, but it is a measure of our progress and our team that we are going down there with a little bit of a swagger and confident. We need to make sure we show the same level of concentration and diligence we showed on Thursday.”
Victor Anichebe may be handed a start after his goal in midweek, and he has paid tribute to fellow forward Yakubu.
”I’m learning so much from him. His game is all about strength, but he has scored a lot of goals and I’m doing my best to take his advice,” he said.
Forward Andrew Johnson will be missing with an ankle injury, but Leighton Baines could return to the substitutes bench. — Sapa-AFP