LONDON - Luiz Felipe Scolari might have to make a quick call to his agent if Chelsea lose to Manchester United on Sunday. If reaching the Champions League final for the first time and losing only on penalties was not enough to keep his predecessor Avram Grant in a job, then the Brazilian had better watch out. It seemed preposterous when British bookmakers suspended betting this week on Scolari becoming the next Premier League manager to get the sack yet, such is the impatience that has infected the modern game, that scenario could come to pass only halfway through his first season in England. Chelsea go into the game in second place, three points behind Liverpool and four ahead of United, who have two games in hand. Chelsea's away form, which produced wins in their first eight away games, kept them flying high at the top but recent draws at Everton and Fulham, combined with their stuttering performances on home soil, have cost them dear. It is only because the other challengers have also been dropping unexpected points that the Londoners have not fallen dangerously adrift. ONE-DIMENSIONAL Last weekend's home FA Cup draw with League One Southend has merely added to the disgruntlement of the fans, who are not happy with the one-dimensional fare Scolari is serving up for them nor the apparent lack of zest among the players. Midfielder Frank Lampard remains upbeat, however. "The publicity around Chelsea now is that if you drop a few points people jump on it straight away but Liverpool and United have dropped points, no-one has pulled away from us, and Arsenal are behind us," he said this week. "It's the same for everyone, now we're starting all pretty much level. "A game against Manchester United will always be a table-topping clash... we're in a position now where we really want to get a result." The teams drew 1-1 in September when Salomon Kalou's late equaliser saved what was then Chelsea's four-year unbeaten home run in the league - only for Liverpool and then Arsenal to win at Stamford Bridge in the following months. Chelsea's last win at Old Trafford was in May 2005 en route to their first league title for 50 years. At the time it appeared to be the first step in an expected domination of the English game but United hit back to win the league in the last two seasons and things are now not looking quite so rosy off the pitch either. Owner Roman Abramovich, reported to have been hard hit by the economic downturn, has failed to invest further in the squad in the January window and has instead sold Wayne Bridge to Manchester City. United, fresh from adding the World Club Cup to last year's Champions and Premier League titles, have spent an estimated 16 million pounds ($23.85 million) to bring in Serbian duo Zoran Tosic and Adem Ljajic from Partizan Belgrade. However, they suffered a hiccup on Wednesday when they were beaten 1-0 at Championship side Derby County in the first leg of their League Cup semi-final. The biggest winners of the weekend could be Liverpool, who visit Stoke City on Saturday aiming to maintain their push for a first league title for 19 years. Fourth-placed Aston Villa are at home to West Bromwich Albion while Arsenal, 10 points off the pace in fifth, host Bolton Wanderers.
8 January 2009
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