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2nd String


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Grant set to name second-string team for Euro tieChelsea manager Avram Grant is ready to put a 15-match unbeaten run at risk by fielding a below-strength team for tomorrow night’s final Champions League Group B game against Valencia at Stamford Bridge.Chelsea, whose only defeat in any competition since Grant took over from Jose Mourinho in September was his opening match at Manchester United, are already assured of qualifying for the knockout stages in top place as group winners.They face Premier League leaders Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday and Grant admitted: “There is no doubt what is the most important match. I can’t say otherwise.“But, like other clubs, we have a big squad at Chelsea and I can think we can use it well – although it is not easy with the injuries we have had.”And although he insisted his only focus tomorrow night will be on Valencia, who are clinging to the hope of a win to gain the consolation of a UEFA Cup place to reignite their miserable season in Spain, Grant refuses to provide any clues about his line-up.It is possible he may bring back keeper Petr Cech who has recovered from a thigh injury which kept him out for five weeks and who may need a warm-up before Arsenal.But Grant refused to give any progress reports on the injured Ricardo Carvalho, Florent Malouda or Paulo Ferreira.He said: “I will have to wait until after training to see how everybody is in the morning.”It is clear, however, that Andriy Shevchenko will continue to deputise for injured Didier Drogba after his fourth goal of the season against Sunderland on Saturday, and that Michael Essien, still under domestic suspension and out of the Arsenal game, will get a run-out.But it can safely be assumed that the rest of Grant’s side will be a patch-up job.Grant believes Drogba could return in three weeks after an operation at the weekend to repair damage to the meniscus in his left knee.That would enable him to squeeze in some vital matches before he goes off to the African Nations Cup with Ivory Coast in mid-January.And Grant admitted: “I would prefer to have him fit and playing but that is also true of other players who are injured. And we have to remember that the game (against Valencia) has only become not so important for us because of what we have already done in the group. We have not lost even one game.”Grant has soared from anonymous ’technical director’ at Portsmouth to high-profile boss at Chelsea and is clearly relishing his new role.“I have disappointed you. I think you thought I would lose many games but we have built something good, despite our injuries,” he said.“They (injuries) are always going to be a factor. You have seen how Manchester United and Liverpool have been troubled by injuries to (Wayne) Rooney and (Yossi) Benayoun – and now Arsenal without Cesc Fabregas and Alexander Hleb.“But we have kept a good spirit here and we have played some better football.”Grant’s mood is in total contrast to that of Ronald Koeman, the former Dutch master and PSV coach, whose hapless side’s form has failed to improve since his arrival earlier this season.They have slipped to seventh in La Liga, are rock-bottom of the Champions League group and need a better result than Schalke against Norway’s Rosenborg tomorrow night to earn third place and snatch a parachute jump into the UEFA Cup.But they have been goalless in their last three games and face Barcelona next weekend.
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