Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Hiddink Turns Focus to Euro Conquest; Chelsea Boss Can Fully Concentrate on Knocking out Barcelona after Conceding Defeat in the Title Race. by Simon Johnson

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Hiddink Turns Focus to Euro Conquest; Chelsea Boss Can Fully Concentrate on Knocking out Barcelona after Conceding Defeat in the Title Race. by Simon Johnson

Article excerpt

Byline: Simon Johnson

CHELSEA's title challenge may have ended with a whimper but raising the white flag with five matches still remaining could do them a massive favour.

Even Blues boss Guus Hiddink conceded that a gap of six points to leaders Manchester United, who also have one game in hand over his team, is beyond his undoubted talents.

A disappointing goalless draw at home, where they were fortunate to finish on level terms, is not the way John Terry and Co would have liked to concede defeat.

"We said before the match that we could not drop any more points and we have," Hiddink said.

"Mathematically we're in the title race but we have to be honest and focus now on the Champions League and FA Cup." Chelsea's strength over the past few years has been built around their determination never to give up.

Yet in truth, of all the three trophies the club were trying to win in the final weeks of the season, the Premier League was always a case of hope rather than expectation.

Chelsea's dressing room was understandably still a sombre place after referee Mark Halsey blew the final whistle on their title bid last night but there was cause for optimism among the gloom.

For instead of Chelsea suffering the strain of fighting on three fronts, Hiddink can fully concentrate on the task of beating Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals.

The first leg in the Camp Nou is just five days away, with the return match CHELSEA 0 EVERTON 0 coming a week later, and the Dutchman is now able to rest some of his key players in between.

Chelsea have tough London derbies at West Ham on Saturday and at home against Fulham the following week but the games no longer have the same importance. The club are still keen to finish in the top three to secure automatic qualification for the Champions League next season, yet they should be able to make changes and still stay ahead of fourth-placed Arsenal, who are six points behind them.

It means certain players can be kept fresh for Barcelona. Michael Essien looked like his six-month lay-off with a knee injury this season caught up with him against Everton and even in-form duo Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard looked off the pace. …

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