x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Drogba is irreplaceable

The striker shows his importance with two goals as Chelsea go through to the last 16

Drogba scores his second goal against Atletico Madrid.
Drogba scores his second goal against Atletico Madrid.

Carlo Ancelotti confirmed his Champions League credentials by guiding Chelsea to a place in the last 16 with two games to spare. The Blues only managed a 2-2 draw at Atletico Madrid on Tuesday after Sergio Aguero grabbed his second goal of the night in stoppage time, cancelling out Didier Drogba's brace, but it was enough to seal their passage into the knockout rounds.

Ancelotti replaced Guus Hiddink as the Chelsea coach last summer, arriving with a reputation for being able to conquer the continent having led former club AC Milan to the final of Europe's elite competition three times over the past five years, winning twice. And while he was forced to watch his side lose their 100 per cent record in the Champions League this season, he insisted the vital statistic was their early qualification for the next round.

"It's not great to concede a goal in the last minute, but that can happen," said the 50-year-old Italian. "We are in the next phase of the Champions League and this is important with two matches still to take place." Drogba, making his first Champions League appearance since being suspended in the aftermath of last season's semi-final defeat to Barcelona, looked immense as he took his goal tally for the season to 12. "Didier is an important player for us. We have a lot of important players, but he is doing very well and we are happy," Ancelotti said. "He was motivated at the start of the season and has been doing very well and continues to do very well."

Chelsea host Premier League champions Manchester United on Sunday and Ancelotti insists there is no other forward in the world he would swap for Drogba at present. "He is in a good moment, I'm very happy," he said. "I hope he can continue. I want to keep him and I don't want to change him with another striker." Chelsea's Group D rivals Porto also secured their place in the last 16 following a 1-0 win over Apoel Nicosia thanks to a late goal by summer signing Falcao. The Portuguese champions are on nine points, one behind Chelsea, and will welcome the London side to Estadio do Dragao in three weeks.

In Group A, Bayern Munich's campaign took a heavy blow as they lost at home to Bordeaux, who have now confirmed their place in the next round. Yoann Gourcuff and long-term Arsenal target Marouane Chamakh were on the scoresheet as Les Girondins pulled off a smash and grab at the Allianz Arena. The German giants have only four points after four games and still need to travel to second-placed Juventus, who beat Maccabi Haifa 1-0 courtesy of a Mauro Camoranesi first-half strike. The draw for the first knockout round will take place on December 18.

@Email:gmeenaghan@thenational.ae