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Testing Times

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Daily Mail

Chelsea star Makelele claims the testing times have made the players angry

Claude Makelele insists that Chelsea's problems this season have been good - because they have made the players angry.

A managerial change, injuries to star men and slips down the Premier League table have made for a testing time at the club who two seasons ago were expected to dominate the English game for years to come.

They also feel aggrieved at twice being charged for crowding around referees this season while other teams have escaped punishment.

Footage of the Liverpool team gathering around referee Martin Atkinson after Peter Crouch's sending-off at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday will be included in Chelsea's defence of the charge of failing to control their players against Derby last month, even though they have admitted it.

Avram Grant's side go to Blackburn on Sunday in third place, six points behind leaders Arsenal and without the injured John Terry and Didier Drogba. But Makelele is confident Chelsea's trials and tribulations will make them stronger.

He said: "In some ways it is good for us. We are fighters and you can only win if you fight. When you lose some of the power in your football and go down, it is a good incentive to work hard, get back to your best and work your way back up.

"You get your appetite back. You are angry. You want more because you know it is not normal for a club like Chelsea to be in this position. I am confident by the time the season ends, Chelsea will be back where we belong."

Such a reaction saw Grant's team bounce back from defeat at Arsenal with a Carling Cup quarter-final victory over Liverpool.

The next big test of their resources will come when preparations for the African Nations Cup begin.

Ivory Coast internationals Drogba and Salomon Kalou, and Nigeria's John Obi Mikel are due to leave by 7 January. But Grant is hopeful he can negotiate a later release for Michael Essien with Ghana and have the midfielder for the first-leg of the Carling Cup semi-final against Everton and the league clash against Tottenham on 14 January.

That would ease the pressure on players such as 34-year-old Makelele, who has been used sparingly this season, and Michael Ballack as he returns from his long injury lay-off.

All three midfielders will be available on Sunday. Alex will also rejoin the squad after the birth of his second child while Grant waits for news of Andriy Shevchenko's swollen ankle and Claudio Pizarro's fever. But Florent Malouda is still out with a knee problem.

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