x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Hiddink's charges step into fifth gear

Didier Drogba and Alex guide Chelsea into the FA Cup semi-finals in a dominant display against Coventry City.

Ricardo Quaresma, left, evades a challenge by Coventry's Aron Gunnarsson as Chelsea escape an FA Cup shock at the Ricoh Arena.
Ricardo Quaresma, left, evades a challenge by Coventry's Aron Gunnarsson as Chelsea escape an FA Cup shock at the Ricoh Arena.

Just when it matters most, Chelsea have got their act together and delivered a warning yesterday that they should not be discounted in the end-of-season prize-giving. Didier Drogba and Alex provided composed finishes to send them into the semi-finals of the FA Cup and help maintain the momentum that still gives them hope of a Treble this season. The Premier League and Champions League remain bigger targets, but the arrival of Guus Hiddink has reproduced the winning formula and a desire to succeed in every game and every competition. A clinical, counter-attacking performance against Coventry yesterday made it five victories in succession since the Dutchman took charge - six in total - and the transformation following the departure of Luiz Felipe Scolari is evident. None more so than in Drogba, who looks back to his bustling best. He had served notice of his threat in only the second minute when Scott Dann missed a header and Drogba powered forward to fire a low shot wide. Dann and Ben Turner were found wanting again in the 15th minute when the Chelsea striker's calmly taken strike, his third goal in four games, put his side ahead. Jose Bosingwa launched a long ball and Turner's poor header went backwards where Dann failed to clear. Drogba pounced, rounded the keeper Kieran Westwood and slotted in from a tight angle. Drogba's delight was shared with his teammates, particularly Michael Essien, who was back on the bench for the first time in seven months after a cruciate ligament injury. The midfielder's dynamic presence has been missed and when he came on in the 65th minute Chelsea were lifted. A second goal followed eight minutes later and confirmed their dominance. Down to nine men with Drogba and Alex off the field after a clash of heads, Coventry had an attacking throw-in. Suddenly, Chelsea broke with power, pace and panache and Alex - back on the pitch and the furthest forward - coolly powered Ricardo Quaresma's right-wing cross past Westwood for his second goal of the season. Coventry, Cup winners in 1987, were bemused and beaten, their efforts in vain. The manager, Chris Coleman, had been hoping his lone ranger Leon Best, wearing a mask to protect a cheekbone he broke in January, would ride to their rescue once again. But the man who shot down Blackburn in the last round could not repeat the feat, ballooning one good chance over. Chelsea's defence, featuring Ashley Cole despite his midweek police fine for being drunk and disorderly, made it three successive away clean sheets, putting them in the right mood for the European trip to Juventus on Tuesday. Drogba gave them a 1-0 first-leg advantage and Hiddink said: "He is dangerous and I think he is good for the group as well. He can still improve and with some special training sessions outside the group, it is paying off." Essien may not be ready to start against Juve, but said: "It's great to be back and I am now looking forward to the games ahead." akhan@thenational.ae