Despite a disappointing run of domestic results in the winter, Chelsea FC are still in UEFA Champions League contention and Salomon Kalou believes the quarter-final against Manchester United FC could prove the pivotal moment in their season.
After landing a Premier League and FA Cup double last term, Chelsea's expectations for the campaign were high. Those hopes soared further when Carlo Ancelotti's side won their first five league matches, scoring 21 goals and conceding only one, yet following a haul of ten points in 11 games between November and January, the Blues had to regroup. Since then they have reclaimed third place in the table and advanced to another European meeting with Manchester United, which, striker Kalou insists, can completely revive their season.
"It has been difficult because we started by winning [by big margins], and so everyone thought it was going to be an easy season for Chelsea," Kalou told UEFA.com. "Then our confidence suffered and it was harder to bounce back. But we are doing well now and recently beat United in the league [2-1 at Stamford Bridge on 1 March] so that can be a good turning point for us."
The quarter-final, beginning in London on Wednesday, is a repeat of the 2008 UEFA Champions League final, which Chelsea lost on penalties. Kalou is confident his team can deliver this time, however, should spot kicks be required. Indeed, the Ivory Coast forward reckons his team-mates learned more from last year's round of 16 defeat by FC Internazionale Milano than they did from their pain in Moscow.
"We have learnt from the past," the 25-year-old said. "Losing against Inter was a difficult time, but we now know it's very important not to concede an away goal. That made the difference last year – when we lost 2-1 in Milan. Even though we were better than Inter in the home [second] leg, against a manager like [José] Mourinho on his return to Stamford Bridge, you knew he was going to have a game plan and it paid off [Inter won 1-0]. That's what we have to learn.
Away games are very important and that's how you win the Champions League."
One such critical away result, in another all-English tie, came in April 2008 when John Arne Riise's added-time own goal earned Chelsea a 1-1 draw at Liverpool FC in the semi-final first leg. "That 1-1 was decisive for us," Kalou said. "Drawing against Liverpool, who at that time were very tough to play, and at Anfield, which was one of the most difficult places to play; that showed Chelsea were ready to go to the final."
The Blues' January signing Fernando Torres was a Liverpool player back then, and Kalou is convinced he could prove the difference for his new club – either on Wednesday or in the Old Trafford return on 12 April. "He can bring a lot," he said. "He has pace and can score goals. We have amazing strikers in Nico [Anelka], Didier [Drogba], Torres and me, but he can help us take the team to the next level."
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