DIDIER DROGBA is struggling to be fit for the first leg of Chelsea’s Champions League quarter-final tie with Liverpool tomorrow but Rafael Benitez expects Steven Gerrard to be fit for the latest ‘Battle of Britain’.
Chelsea coach Guus Hiddink will delay a decision on Drogba for as long as possible.
The Ivorian striker was absent from their 2-0 victory at Newcastle on Saturday and the squad will train at Cobham this morning before flying up to Merseyside.
Gerrard was replaced in injury-time during the Liverpool’s last-gasp win over Fulham in the Premier League on Saturday with the midfielder suffering from a tight groin.
Drogba is making slow progress after jarring his ankle in training and Hiddink wants to give him all the time he can to recover.
“Drogba is with our medical staff,” said Hiddink. “He suffered a reaction to an ankle injury he picked up in training.
“At the moment we’ll just have to see if he can train and take it from there but we know we have some big, tough games coming up.”
For his part, Benitez is optimistic that Gerrard’s injury will not be serious enough to rule his captain out. “Steven had some problems, but I think he will be okay for Wednesday,’’ said Benitez.
“He was a little bit tired and he felt something a bit tight. We will see.’’
Hiddink insists Drogba is mentally ready to play following the Ivory Coast stadium disaster.
The collapse of a stadium wall caused the deaths of 19 fans before the recent World Cup qualifier against Malawi in Abidjan, a game which also featured his Chelsea team-mate Salomon Kalou.
“We’ve talked about the tragedy in Abidjan with the whole squad,” added Hiddink. “You can’t forget about something like that when it’s happened and of course we won’t, but life goes on and the best thing is to get back to work, which is what Kalou did against Newcastle.”
Chelsea’s victory over Newcastle’s at the weekend kept their title hopes alive and Hiddink is hoping the Blues do not live to regret the defeat by Tottenham prior to the international break.
“We will try to keep winning and we have some home games coming up in the league so hopefully we can keep the pressure on the teams around us,” said Hiddink. “I just hope we’re not left to regret the points we dropped against Tottenham.”
England midfielder Frank Lampard, who scored the opening goal in the win over Newcastle, said: “We had no option but to bounce back from the Spurs defeat if we were to have any hope of staying in the title race and that’s why it was so important to get three points. The Spurs result was a setback but good teams bounce back from those and that’s what we’ve done. We don’t think the title race is over yet by a long margin and the other teams at the top won’t think that either.’’
Meanwhile Fernando Torres has made it clear that the Champions League remains his personal priority as Liverpool gear up for tonight’s clash with Chelsea.
This is the fifth consecutive season that the clubs will have met in the Champions League, and although Liverpool are finally contesting the Premier League it is Europe that remains the Holy Grail for their Spanish striker.
Torres, who joined Liverpool the summer after their 2007 defeat by AC Milan in the final, said his part in Spain’s victorious Euro 2008 campaign has given him the taste of success.
Torres said: “Domestic titles are very important but to win the Champions League you are saying we are the best team in Europe.
“This club has a great record in the European Cup but now I want to be a part of that history.
“Winning the European Championship was a great thing for me and I understood what it was to win a major trophy and what I had been missing.
“On the way home from the European Championship I made a promise that I wanted more of this success with Liverpool and it does not come any bigger than the European Cup.”
Liverpool’s confidence could hardly be higher than this year – not only are they challenging Manchester United domestically, but their form is peaking at the right time, and among the players no one is playing better than Gerrard.
The Liverpool skipper has just signed a new contract and the timing of that announcement could also be important to provide confidence for his fellow players.
Torres added: “Stevie has been getting a lot of praise from some of the best players in the world.
“That is quite right because I think he is the best in the world. He is a great team player but he can also win a game on his own when maybe we are not playing so well.
“I would love to see him have a lot more success. I cannot think of a player I would rather be playing with.’’
The Spanish striker also reiterated his own desire to stay at the club for the long term.
He said: “I have said many times the only club I would leave Atletico (Madrid) for was Liverpool, and nothing has changed there. They are the only two clubs that are in my heart.
“I have supported Liverpool since I was a boy and I intend on staying here a very long time.”
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