LONDON, February 26 – Guus Hiddink believes Chelsea are in pole position to reach the Champions League quarter-finals despite the slender margin of their last 16 first leg victory over Juventus.Hiddink’s side will travel to Italy for the second leg on March 10 with a 1-0 lead after Didier Drogba’s first-half header spoiled Juventus coach Claudio Ranieri’s return to Stamford Bridge.
Although Ranieri was unable to gain immediate revenge over Blues owner Roman Abramovich, who sacked the Italian in 2004 to make way for Jose Mourinho’s arrival at Chelsea, he will fancy his chances of having the final word in Turin.
But Hiddink knows Juventus will have to push forward more in the return and he expects Chelsea to take full advantage.
"Of course it is good to have a cleansheet because now Juventus have to try to score at home," Hiddink said.
"It will be difficult. They are a balanced team, they are smart and are always dangerous around the box. We will try to score there as well. If we try to play as we can do I see us having the advantage."
Drogba’s clinical 12th minute finish from Salomon Kalou’s pass was Chelsea’s only reward for a dominant first half display. Drogba could have added a second only to head wide from close range but Chelsea faded in the second half as they began to tire.
Hiddink hinted that his predecessor Luiz Felipe Scolari’s brief reign had left Chelsea’s squad unprepared for the extreme physical demands of Champions League action.
Several of Chelsea’s players, including John Terry and Frank Lampard, complained to Scolari that his training sessions were too relaxed and Hiddink gave credence to those complaints.
"Didier and Nicolas Anelka got tired at the end and didn’t function so well. The rest of the team suffered from that," Hiddink said.
"Normally when we cannot maintain control in the whole game, one of the things can be we are not top, top physical level. In these high level games you must be at the very top fitness.
"It is not easy to control the whole game but with these players we should be able to do it for 90 percent of the game."
An away goal in Turin would put Chelsea firmly on course for the last eight and, with Drogba finally playing with some fire in his belly, there is every chance they can get it.
After being banished by Scolari for a perceived lack of commitment to the cause, Drogba has been reborn under Hiddink, who has immediately restored the powerful forward to his starting line-up.
Hiddink insists he has had no problems with the Ivorian’s attitude since he took over.
"Drogba has responded very well. He is fighting so Anelka can take advantage," he said adding, "Generally it is good to have Didier in the central position because it is very difficult to play against him.
"I cannot talk about the past because I was not here to judge. I normally ask professional players to be committed. Here I didn’t even have to ask.
"From my first day I didn’t find a single player I had to motivate. If I have to ask I normally start fighting with them and if they don’t react I don’t use them.
"I didn’t have this problem at all. He enjoyed training and has worked hard since I have been here."
Ranieri admitted he was touched by the rapturous reception he received from the Chelsea fans, but the Italian was more concerned with Juventus’s failure to score a crucial away goal.
Juve gave a resolute display but the closest they came to a goal was Alessandro Del Piero’s angle drive that forced Petr Cech to make a superb stop in the first half and Pavel Nedved’s deflected effort which almost crept in late on.
"I have to say I was extremely happy with the reception because it shows they haven’t forgotten me. I spent four wonderful years here and I would like to thank them for that," Ranieri said.
"Of course scoring an away goal is important so it could have been much better for us.
"One of the players said that after years of playing English teams this was one of our best performances. But to be frank I would rather have not played so well and scored a goal.
"Chelsea have been getting better results away. That is why we wanted to score."