Chelsea fit and focused for European assault

LONDON - After a dark, depressing winter Chelsea have emerged into the spring energised, focused and fully fit for their annual assault on the knockout stage of the Champions League.

After a series of poor results, culminating in their exit from the FA Cup after losing at home on penalties to Everton, Chelsea rediscovered their form with a 2-0 away win over FC Copenhagen, who they face on Wednesday in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

In their next game they beat Manchester United 2-1 in the league and followed up with a 3-1 away win over Blackpool.

Their cup exit meant they had last weekend off and they head into Wednesday's game with barely an injury to speak of.

"The game in Copenhagen was an important one, we played well and took a lot of confidence and were able to repeat that against Manchester United so it was a turning point," Ancelotti told reporters on Tuesday.

"We have used this time well to prepare the team; to stay focused, to improve our condition and our confidence and everything was okay in training.

"It's fantastic for us to have all the players fit and I want to maintain a good motivation for everyone because we need everyone in the last games of the Premier League and the Champions League.

"Our confidence now after the victories is really better and we want to maintain this and if it's possible, improve."

Chelsea play Manchester City in the league at the weekend and though they trail leaders United by nine points they have a game in hand and still have to play Sir Alex Ferguson's side.

REALISTIC TARGET

However, the Champions League looks a more realistic target, especially with the advantage in their Copenhagen tie firmly in their favour after Nicolas Anelka's double in the first leg.

Chelsea are in the last 16 for the eighth successive season and bidding for make the semi-finals for the sixth time in that period. In the last three years they have lost to the eventual winners so, assuming they progress on Wednesday, they will have a keen eye on Friday's quarter-final draw.

The Londoners were knocked out by Barcelona two years ago, albeit after outplaying them in their semi-final, but Ancelotti said he did not fear drawing the Spanish favourites again should his side progress.

"I hope we're in the draw on Friday. It is very important to reach the quarter-finals, though we have to pay a lot of attention because Copenhagen are a good team, with good organisation," he said.

"Barcelona are the best team in Europe but in the Champions League you can use your strength and power and different skills," he said. "Every game is a different story."

With David Luiz ineligible Branislav Ivanovic is likely to start at centre back alongside John Terry. Alex, who has not played since November because of a knee injury, is fit but Ancelotti said he would not be involved until Sunday's game against City on Sunday.

Yossi Benayoun, out since September with an Achilles injury, will also return to training later this week, though his return to the first team is some way off.


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