Belfast Telegraph

Chelsea warned title bid faces red hot test

By Matt McGeehan

Branislav Ivanovic reflected on what might have been against Maribor and admitted Chelsea must improve to emerge from tomorrow's clash against Liverpool at Anfield with their unbeaten record intact.

Jose Mourinho was frustrated at yet another insipid performance from his side - following the below-par wins against Shrewsbury and QPR - as the Blues had to battle from behind to draw 1-1 with Champions League Group G minnows Maribor in Slovenia.

Chelsea, who are unbeaten in 16 games this term with only four draws, have little time to digest a performance which could have been a win had Eden Hazard converted a late penalty.

That would have secured qualification for the last 16 with two games to spare, but now the Blues must forget Europe and swiftly refocus on domestic duty as they travel to Anfield for tomorrow lunchtime's showdown.

"We know how our performance has to be to get the points from Liverpool away," Ivanovic said.

"I think if we play against Liverpool as we played against Maribor, we know it is not possible (to get any points).

"Of course this was a warning to the team and this is good.

"We should have finished the group, but now it's too late and we have to think about the next games in the Champions League."

Chelsea must now wait to seal their progress until at least the November 25 trip to Gelsenkirchen, where their European Cup-winning boss Roberto di Matteo is now in charge of Schalke.

Didier Drogba, who scored the decisive penalty in the May 2012 final with the last kick of his first spell, made his 100th European appearance in Slovenia.

"Not the best one," said the 36-year-old Ivory Coast striker.

"At least we didn't lose. We can still win the group," he added.

Immediate matters turn to Anfield, where Chelsea won 2-0 in late April to derail the Reds' hopes of a first English title in 24 years with a resolute defensive display featuring ruthless counter-attacks.

Ivanovic has no concerns about the turnaround.

"We have two days to recover - this is normal," he added.

"It's not the first time we have had to do that. We are professional and have to do a lot of things to be ready for that game.

"It's massive - one of the crucial games for us. For this kind of game you always have to find extra motivation and it's not about tiredness or fitness."

Mourinho bemoaned complacency and the officials for ruling out a Diego Costa strike for offside, when it appeared to be a legitimate goal.

Costa had been called off the bench, alongside Oscar and Ramires, when Mourinho had hoped to keep the trio fresh.

It was difficult to comprehend how Chelsea struggled to cope with a team they had beaten 6-0 two weeks earlier.

Ivanovic added: "When you look on the positive side of these games, this is a reminder.

"It is a warning against complacency. We can't be relaxed. We have to learn from every game.

"When we go into a match relaxed and don't play for 90 minutes with our level of performance and intensity, we struggle to get results.

"We have to be smart and play every game for 90 minutes."

Belfast Telegraph


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