Return to form of Drogba aids Chelsea challenge

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LONDON - Nicolas Anelka has scored 21 goals for Chelsea this season but it is the form of fellow striker Didier Drogba which could have the bigger influence on their Champions League campaign.

The Premier League side take on Juventus in the first leg of their last-16 tie on Wednesday and the Ivorian striker who has missed large chunks of the campaign through injury looks set to play a vital role.

He failed to convince former coach Luiz Felipe Scolari that he deserved a starting role, his body language told a story of an unhappy player and Chelsea, without him, lost their focal point.

But since the arrival of Guus Hiddink to coach the team through to the end of the season, Drogba has been given a new lease of life.

Hiddink paired Drogba and Anelka as dual strikers in last Saturday's game against Aston Villa and was rewarded with an energetic display from both men, another goal for Anelka and a Premier League victory.

He seems certain to go with the same partnership against Juventus.

"When they didn't play together, that depended upon other people's style of play. That is in the past. My interest is only in the short future ahead for me and the team," Hiddink said.

"They played together at Aston Villa in a very important game. You cannot hide in games like that. They worked very hard for the team and they helped us get the first win."

Scolari maintained that whenever he put the two strikers in the same team it upset the balance and left the midfield exposed.

However, when not in possession both worked hard to put pressure on the Villa defenders and it did not go unnoticed by the new boss.

"They understand that they are our first line of defence and if they can continue to play like that then there is no problem to use their very strong qualities as attacking players," Hiddink said.

UPBEAT FEEL

Drogba's rejuvenation and the upbeat feel around Stamford Bridge has come just in time for what should be an emotional night for returning former manager Claudio Ranieri.

The Italian was sacked in 2004 and although his replacement, Jose Mourinho, took Chelsea to successive league titles, Ranieri remains hugely popular.

"Chelsea have shown they are a great team," Ranieri said.

"We know that we will be playing against the team who lost the last Champions League final because of a missed penalty but we will go there and play with determination."

Alessandro Del Piero will come back into the starting lineup having been rested for Saturday's 2-0 Serie A win at Palermo and will probably be partnered by Amauri.

The tall Brazilian came off the bench to set up the second goal for David Trezeguet, who is likely to be a substitute against Chelsea having just returned from five months out with a knee problem.

Former Chelsea man Tiago could keep his place in midfield and defensive midfielder Mohamed Sissoko should be buoyed by his stunning opener in the win over Palermo.

Juve lie second in Serie A but have won only two of their last five games.

Probable teams:

Chelsea: 1-Petr Cech; 17-Jose Bosingwa, 26-John Terry, 33-Alex, 3-Ashley Cole; 12-John Obi Mikel, 8-Frank Lampard, 13-Michael Ballack, 21-Salomon Kalou; 39-Nicolas Anelka, 11-Didier Drogba.

Juventus: 1-Gianluigi Buffon; 4-Olof Mellberg, 33-Nicola Legrottaglie, 3-Giorgio Chiellini, 28-Cristian Molinaro; 16-Mauro Camoranesi, 22-Mohamed Sissoko, 30-Tiago, 11-Pavel Nedved; 10-Alessandro Del Piero, 8-Amauri.

Referee: Olegario Benquerenca (Portugal)