Southampton's Croatian revelation Dejan Lovren has sent out an emphatic message ahead of the Saints' trip to Stamford Bridge this weekend: "We are not scared."
Saints, perceived by many to be overachieving this season, fell to seventh in the league table after Saturday's results. However, they have the opportunity to rise as high as second with victory over a Chelsea side who are battling for consistency.
Having brushed West Ham aside last weekend, Chelsea slumped to defeat against Basel, and will be hoping to right the wrongs this Sunday.
Lovren was an absentee in Southampton's 2-0 defeat at the hands of league leaders Arsenal, but admits that he is now relishing the challenge ahead.
Speaking to www.saintsfc.co.uk, Lovren said: “I’m feeling really good now. It was a tough three days after the [Arsenal] game. It was really difficult for me, but now I’m in good shape so I will be ready for the Sunday game."
Lovren returned to Southampton harbouring hopes of appearing in the Arsenal game after a spell with the Croatia national team, that saw them qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup after defeating Iceland over two legs.
Saints boss Mauricio Pochettino was forced to withdraw Lovren from his plans after the former Lyon and Dinamo Zagreb man fell ill with a vomiting bug on the Friday night before the game.
Whilst Jos Hooiveld deputised admirably, the presence of Lovren and the imperious defensive record of the Saints this season are no coincidence.
An £8 million summer arrival, Lovren was perhaps the most low-key signing of a window that also heralded the arrival of Victor Wanyama and Dani Osvaldo, both for fees in the region of £12 million.
Lovren is now targeting European football with Southampton, and believes the side can push Chelsea all the way in Sunday's 4pm kick-off.
"Chelsea is a big club and they have really top players, but I think we are not scared, and we also have top players,” Lovren said.
“We don’t have fear – we have a respect for everybody."
There's a fine balance between showing a side enough respect and showing them too much respect, although this is not an issue regularly encountered by a Pochettino side that is quickly earning fame for its tenacious pressing style.
“We were strong against Liverpool and at Man United we played a good game to take a point so we have the quality and we will go to London to take the three points.” Lovren added.
Chelsea occupy third spot, with 24 points from a possible 36.
Victory on Sunday would see them close the gap between themselves and Arsenal to just four points, but defeat would see Southampton leap frog them into the automatic qualification places for the Champions League.
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