Hiddink quits title race to focus on Barcelona

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The Independent Football

Guus Hiddink's decision to throw in the towel concerning Chelsea's title aspirations is a recognition that his team are running out of steam. The Chelsea manager now has the reason he needs to rest fatigued legs at West Ham United tomorrow ahead of next week's Champions League tie against Barcelona on Tuesday night.

One player finding renewed purpose is the goalkeeper Petr Cech, who had been a paragon of consistency but found his temperament questioned after performances against Bolton Wanderers and Liverpool in which he conceded seven goals.

But Cech was outstanding in keeping a clean sheet in Wednesday's 0-0 draw with Everton, and Hiddink singled out the Czech international for his strength of character. The temporary Chelsea manager also praised Cech's bravery, for the way he dived headfirst to nod away an Everton through ball in the dying moments of the match.

"He was very brave regarding his injury past, putting his head very bravely in this dangerous situation. He had some blood in his nose but he's OK. That was a personal victory for him," Hiddink said. "I've not been tempted to rest him. He's had some difficult times, but he worked well and was relaxed. He showed again what he was capable of, as he has in the past. Every now and again, every player has the right to have a period when he's not at peak performance, but it was very short. We spoke, but not dramatically, about the situation."

Hiddink revealed he will have to do without the experienced defender Ricardo Carvalho at the Nou Camp next week, as the Portuguese international has a hamstring strain. Chelsea are running out of options as they will also have to do without the suspended Ashley Cole. But Hiddink hopes there is something positive to be gained from the crisis.

"I can start crying about these problems or I can think there's an opportunity to get an advantage out of a disadvantage," he admitted. "We have some candidates for the left-back position, and we have some time to practise. I have options in my mind. But it's too early to say now."

The goalless draw at Stamford Bridge earned Everton their second Premier League clean sheet against Chelsea this season. The midfielder Leon Osman fears, however, that record may give Chelsea greater motivation when the sides meet again in the FA Cup final at Wembley on 30 May.

"I think it will only make them more determined to beat us," Osman said. "It will help our confidence but will make them more determined to find a way to break us down.

"Hopefully, we'll be able to keep them out again on the big occasion. Chelsea have experienced that a lot more times than we have. Hopefully, at Wembley we'll be able to stand up and be counted again and, hopefully, win the final," Osman said.

"We've certainly got something to aim for at the end of the season and we won't let our confidence or our concentration slip."