Revived Chelsea focus on Europe

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The Independent Football

A good result changes everything at a football club. Suddenly Chelsea are again looking forward with confidence, bolstered by Wednesday's defeat of VfB Stuttgart, returning faces, and a quick reassessment of priorities. Europe is now the goal, the Premiership a sideline.

While the Champions' League second-round, first-leg win was a boost, the return of Damien Duff, Hernan Crespo and Carlo Cudicini has longer-term significance. Duff's 24 minutes were irrelevant in a match which had become a test of Chelsea's defending but they represented a huge step forward for the influential winger. Crespo played 87 minutes, his longest run since mid-December, and Cudicini, who had missed five matches since Christmas, marked his 150th start for Chelsea with his first clean sheet in a month.

The 30-year-old Cudicini needs a good finish to the season to fend off the challenge of the £7m Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech, who arrives in the summer from Stade Rennes. What better way to do so than to emulate his father, Fabio, a European Cup-winner in 1969 with Milan?

"The last few weeks have been frustrating for me but my fitness is fine now," Cudicini said. "I have a small tear in my groin and can't kick but it's not causing any discomfort. It will be a challenge for all of us with the new keeper coming, but this kind of competition is normal. I didn't think we needed another keeper, we have three very good ones at the club, but I understand they have to look to the future.

"He's a very good young keeper but I'm not that old. Even if he comes here it doesn't mean he will necessarily play." Joe Cole, or Scott Parker, would doubtless concur.

Crespo, who made only his 13th start since joining Chelsea in August, said: "I feel I'm fully fit again and hope I can go on and show the real Hernan Crespo. It's been hard to watch because I wanted to be playing but I had real problems with injury and flu. This season has been so unlucky off the pitch but when I have been playing football I have been happy. It has been difficult to settle but things are getting better.

"It is important for us to have Damien, Hernan and Carlo back," Frank Lampard said, "especially Damien as he gives us that bit of creativity on the left.

"[The win] was a great way to bounce back from the Arsenal games," Lampard added. "A lot of people have put pressure on us and we have reacted well, using it in a positive way."

"The pressure is normal," Crespo said. "This is football. Who wants to play without pressure? If you do, you might as well go and play with your friends in the park. If you want to play with a great team and fight to win something then you have to handle the pressure."

Crespo felt that Chelsea were still outsiders for the Champions' League as they were still "building" but would be "a real team next year". Lampard was more optimistic: "I would like to think we can be the dark horse in this competition. We are nine points behind in the Premiership, which is a big hill to climb so we have to focus on this. The lads are relishing playing in Europe, it is a break from the League, and we are getting good results."

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