MADRID, Nov 4 – Chelsea and in-form striker Didier Drogba go into Sunday's title showdown with Manchester United at Stamford Bridge with wind in their sails having qualified for the knockout phase of the Champions League with a 2-2 group D draw at Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.Ivory Coast star Drogba was making his first Champions League outing following a three-match suspension and warmed up for United with a brace (82, 88) which was cancelled out by a double from Atletico’s Sergio "Kun" Aguero.
Drogba had not played in Europe since May when he lost his cool and insulted the referee after Chelsea’s Champions League semi-final defeat to eventual champions Barcelona and was delighted to be back playing on the highest stage.
"I have played many Champions League games with Chelsea and I was just happy to be back on the pitch," said Drogba. "I don’t know if I am playing the best football of my career as I had a good spell a few years ago.
"I am certainly playing with a lot of confidence and it is always easier when you are injury-free."
Drogba has struggled with injuries over the past few seasons but has been in fine goalscoring form this season and showed his worth to the team again with his brace.
"I hope I can continue playing and feeling like this until the end of the season," said the former Marseille man. "We can now think about Manchester United and we have to do everything to beat them at home."
Chelsea lead the English Premier League by two points from reigning champions Manchester United.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti singled out the returning Drogba for praise and expressed his delight at reaching the knockout phase with two games to spare.
"Didier was motivated at the start of the season and has been doing very well and continues to do very well and I hope he can play in other games like he did tonight," Ancelotti said.
"We have a lot of important players and he is certainly one of them."
Chelsea’s 100 percent European record, as well as their perfect defensive record, came to an end with the Atletico draw but Ancelotti was happy to have clinched a place in the last 16.
"It is not ideal to concede a goal in the last minute but it can happen," said Ancelotti. "We are in the next phase of the Champions League and this is important with two matches still to go.
"I don’t think we were thinking about Manchester United before this game. We are thinking about them now and have time to do so."
Ancelotti, 50, said in the pre-match presser that the Champions League was his priority and Chelsea hope they will be back in Madrid come May for the final at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Chelsea have never won the competition falling just short with four semi-finals and a final in the past six seasons.
Ancelotti has won the Champions League twice as a player (1989, ’90) and manager (2003, 2007) with AC Milan so Chelsea will hope he can be their lucky talisman.
For Atletico Madrid improving their drastic league situation is the top priority with the club languishing third from bottom of the table going into the weekend’s derby at home to Real Madrid.
In Europe the Champions League dream is over with third spot and parachuting into the Europa League the best they can hope for.
"I am really happy with the attitude of the players and I am sure we will get ourselves out of this situation," said Atletico coach "Quique" Sanchez Flores.