LONDON: Didier Drogba believes Chelsea will prove they can last the pace in the Premier League title race by brushing aside fellow FA Cup finalists Everton today.
With three trophies still in their sights, Guus Hiddink’s team have no time to rest on their laurels after Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final win over Arsenal.
Hiddink admits beating Everton in the final on May 30 would be the perfect way to end his brief reign as Chelsea manager before resuming his full-time post as Russia coach.
But Hiddink will head back to Moscow with even more medals in his suitcase if Chelsea, who face a Champions League semi-final against Barcelona later this month, can triumph in Europe and overhaul Manchester United in the league. The Blues trail United by four points and the leaders have a game in hand so there is no margin for error.
Chelsea’s task is made harder by the frantic nature of their fixture list from now until that Wembley date with Everton. But Drogba is convinced they are strong enough, mentally and physically, to last the pace.
“When you go to the end of the season there are big games all the time and when you play at Chelsea you have to perform in them if you want to win trophies,” he said.
“That is what you try to do. It doesn’t work every time but at least we have the chance to try.
“I feel stronger now. I am really happy that in July I took the right decision not to go to pre-season because I needed to rest. I needed to work on my knee to come back strong. That was the sacrifice I made at the beginning of the season and it’s paying dividends now.”
While the odds are against Chelsea in the league, it would be foolish to completely write them off while Drogba is in such fearsome form.
The Ivory Coast forward has scored eight goals in his last nine games including Saturday’s winner against Arsenal, and looks back to his imposing best after a frustrating season.
Injuries and a personality clash with former Blues boss Luiz Felipe Scolari left Drogba languishing on the sidelines until Hiddink took charge. Drogba acknowledges Hiddink’s contribution to his revival but believes he only ever needed to play regularly to rediscover his goal-scoring touch.
“Everybody is talking about the change of the manager but really it is quite simple. I wasn’t playing, so I couldn’t score goals,” he said.
Everton should be in buoyant mood after Sunday’s penalty shoot-out win over United clinched their first FA Cup final appearance since 1995.
David Moyes’ side stayed down in London after beating United to prepare for today’s match and Phil Jagielka, who hit Everton’s winning penalty, can’t wait to score a few psychological points ahead of the final.
Jagielka has enjoyed quite a season with his first England cap and now an FA Cup final appearance to savour, but the 26-year-old will have to be at his best to snuff out Drogba.
“In a strange way it is nice to see Drogba coming back to form,” Jagielka said. “It was disappointing as a football fan when he wasn’t doing very well. Now he seems to be back to his best, throwing defenders to one side.
“It is a little bit frightening but it is also exciting to play against. If he scores a hat-trick on Wednesday I will obviously be smiling on the other side of my face.”
Jagielka insists Everton are determined to catch fifth-placed Aston Villa, so there is no chance of the Toffees taking their eye of the ball in the league.
“We want to finish well in the league and fifth place is still up for grabs,” he said. “It is about time the squad we have here come of age and start to win trophies.” — AFP