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Blackburn Rovers-Chelsea Preview
By SANTOSH VENKATARAMAN
(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - Chelsea have what amounts as one final dress rehearsal for the Champions League final when they meet relegated Blackburn Rovers at Stamford Bridge on the final day of the Premier League season Sunday.
Manager Roberto Di Matteo made eight changes from the squad that won 2-1 over Liverpool last Saturday at Wembley to lift the FA Cup for Tuesday's Premier League rematch at Anfield. The Reds bolted to 3-0 lead inside half an hour in a 4-1 triumph that ended the Blues' hopes of finishing fourth in the league.
"We have played with these players the whole season and they have carried us so far and we still had a chance with two games to qualify for fourth spot," Di Matteo said. "But you know how demanding it has been for us - we have played every three days in the last eight weeks - and I thought tonight I thought a team which was energetic and fresh mentally would give us a chance."
Now the only way into the Champions League next season will be for Di Matteo's men to defeat Bayern Munich in Munich next weekend. Chelsea have never won the Champions League, losing in the final to Manchester United on penalties four years ago.
The manager must decide who to include in his side Sunday, with John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Raul Meireles and Ramires all suspended for the Champions League final.
In addition, the Blues are still waiting on the fitness of defenders David Luiz and Gary Cahill, both out with hamstring injuries.
"I would love to have all the players who are unavailable for the final available," Di Matteo told Chelsea's official website. "We are working towards their fitness and trying to get them back as soon as we can, but I can't put an exact date on it."
Rovers, meanwhile, will end an 11-year run in the Premier League with the Championship beckoning. Blackburn's fate was sealed with Monday night's 1-0 defeat to Wigan Athletic.
Confirmation of the drop has added to the turmoil at Ewood Park. Deputy chief executive Paul Hunt has left the club after a letter he sent five months ago was made public in which he warned the club's owners, Indian poultry firm Venky's, of its likely relegation. Hunt also recommended the dismissal of under-fire Blackburn manager Steve Kean.
"The owners are here for the long term, I'm here for the long term," Kean said. "We're now going to take one step backwards to really push forward and try and assemble a squad and I am confident we can get there."
Rovers have one win and seven defeats over their last eight fixtures, but players continue to back Kean.
"I've got nothing but admiration and respect for him," Blackburn defender Bradley Orr said of Kean. "It's not through lack of effort but we fell short as a group of players, and it's resulted in relegation. I can't put my finger on why, it's really hard to take."
Chelsea are unbeaten in 12 meetings with Blackburn, winning nine since a loss at Ewood Park on May 2, 2006. The Blues won 1-0 in the reverse fixture Nov. 5.
Updated May 11, 2012