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Mar 9, 2009

Hiddink hails impact of Essien

Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink believes the return to fitness of midfielder Michael Essien will be crucial as the Blues face Juventus in the last-16 of the Champions League on Tuesday.

Essien was sidelined for six months earlier this season with knee ligament damage but he will be in the squad against Juventus and could even start the game.

Chelsea are chasing Manchester United at the top of the Premier League as well as reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup and Hiddink is thrilled to have Essien back to boost their quest for glory on all three fronts.

''I think it's very important from now until the end of the season to have a big squad in terms of numbers and quality,'' said Hiddink. ''Essien has come back so we have more depth in quality in the squad. He can make his contribution like he did in the past. He was out for many, many months, so it's not easy for him to get the rhythm of the game from the first minute he plays.

''But he's very strong, a very positive guy and he can have a huge impact for the rest of the season.

''He will be in the 18, so he's ready to start. Let's see what will happen tomorrow. We can either start with him or bring him on later, as we did at Coventry, but he's okay and in the squad for the match.''

Hiddink has also vowed Chelsea will not sit back and gift Juventus the initiative in their last-16 clash.

The Dutchman insists the Blues will stay true to their attacking ''character'' when they head to the Stadio Olimpico with a slender one-goal advantage from the first leg at Stamford Bridge.

''It's always nice to have a clean sheet,'' said Hiddink. ''That's very important. But if you just wait in the second leg and hope not to concede, willing not to concede a goal and not have any initiative in the game, you will have a lot of problems.

''So, whenever we can, the team must attack. It's in their character. We've not come here just to defend. That would be asking for trouble.

''At this level, it's tight. Our game at Stamford Bridge was tight. Tomorrow it will be too. When you are in this period in Europe, I don't want to talk about luck but you have to force luck a little bit.''

Hiddink will wait until the last moment to decide whether top scorer Nicolas Anelka has recovered sufficiently from his bruised toe or whether midfielder Deco suffers any reaction to his hamstring tear.

''Anelka has started to train again - yesterday, a bit the day before - and we'll see what his reaction is. We have a few hours to make a decision.

''Deco started back a few days ago. He's a little more problematic. He's fit, but his injury was a muscle - a hamstring - not a rupture but you must be careful. We'll look at him after training to see whether he's in the 18.''

Meanwhile Hiddink quashed speculation that if he remains as Chelsea manager after the summer, captain John Terry and his England team-mate Ashley Cole would be shown the door.

Terry and Cole were both spoken to by Hiddink after they were spotted out in the early hours of last Thursday morning. Cole was later arrested for being drunk and disorderly.

But the Dutch coach re-iterated he has no intention of staying beyond the agreed interim period and insisted there was no problem with the defensive duo.

Hiddink declared: ''First of all, beyond the summer, is an issue we've spoken about for a long time.

''I've spoken clearly on that. Secondly, I don't want to go in to rumours but I can deny fully what the media tried to invent regarding John Terry and Ashley Cole.''

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