Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 13 July 2014

Chelsea’s sights are on biggest prize

Collective desire can often make the difference between victory and defeat. In key moments of an epic contest, it can sometimes come down to a simple question of 'who wants it more?'

As Chelsea prepare themselves to face Barcelona in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final tomorrow, the desire among some of the club's seasoned professionals to reach the final in Rome on May 27 should not be underestimated.

For the last five years, ever since Roman Abramovich started throwing his roubles at the club, Chelsea have earned the unwanted reputation of being Europe's nearly men.

The Russian made it clear the Champions League is the prize the craves above all others, yet frustratingly for a man who has grown used to getting what he wants it has proved to be out of reach.

Chelsea have lost three semi-finals and a final since 2004, an amazing record of European consistency but one they would undoubtedly swap for a year of actually winning it.

That 'close-but-no-cigar' record has become a bug bear for Chelsea's senior players, who accept they must shrug off the years of failure and finally deliver the prize.

John Terry, Joe Cole and Frank Lampard are the club's only survivors from the team that drew 2-2 at home in the Champions League semi-final to Monaco exactly five years ago today, to lose 5-3 on aggregate. Lampard admitted the years of disappointment have has taken their toll.

The 30-year-old midfielder said: “I know what people mean when they say we're cursed in Europe because the more years it comes and you get very close but it doesn't quite happen, the more you start to think 'Will I ever get there?'

“We all start to get a little bit older and there's a real mixture of emotions. You don't get it all the time but in the big games like Liverpool and Barcelona, when you know this is the time when you could be going out, is when

it really kicks in. Hopefully this time we will have it again and use it to push us on again.

“There's definitely a source of determination because we're all professionals and all playing at a club that craves success and wants success and you need that as players. We've basically achieved everything else domestically so Europe is the one that is always hanging over us.”

The arrival of Guus Hiddink as temporary manager in February marked a swift revival in Chelsea's fortunes, and there is a belief in the club that the veteran Dutch manager could be the difference this year in Europe. Hiddink led PSV Eindhoven to the old European Cup in 1988, beating Benfica 6-5 on penalties in Stuttgart.

Lampard said Hiddink's influence on the side has been quiet and under-stated, in contrast to the man whose egotistical shadow is still cast over the club, Jose Mourinho.

Lampard said: “Mourinho has always been the stand-out manager for me and he goes about things in a slightly different way to Hiddink. But they are both completely top. I've never seen anybody approach it as simply as Hiddink does. He knows his stuff. He doesn't over-talk and try to fill your head with 100 tactics. He just says the important things.

“There's certainly been no magic wand or huge difference. I can't explain anything he (Hiddink) has done that's been a huge change from what we were doing before.

“He's made subtle changes across the board, subtle tactical changes in certain games, just little subtle things like speak to players in training and getting the best out of players who were injured or getting down.”

Hiddink may lack the star quality and charisma of Mourinho. But he has a chance of landing the only trophy that eluded the Special One during his time at Chelsea.

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