"I love this competition," said Chelsea FC striker Didier Drogba after shaking off recent troubles to score twice in the 3-0 win over Valencia CF that sent André Villas-Boas's side into the last 16.
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Didier Drogba delivered a warning to Chelsea FC's future opponents in the UEFA Champions League that both he and his team are "slowly but surely" recovering their best form in time for the second half of the season.
The Ivorian striker has played only a bit-part role so far as the London team struggled to dominate their group as in previous seasons. They went into their final game against Valencia CF knowing a loss or a scoring draw would see them miss out on the knockout rounds for the first time in nine years, but it all came right on the night with Drogba scoring twice and laying on the second goal for Ramires as Chelsea eased to a 3-0 victory.
"It was very important to win, knowing that we have been through some difficult moments in the past few weeks," said Drogba. "To win on Saturday [away at Newcastle United FC, also 3-0] and again tonight, was good."
"I'm improving slowly but surely," he added. "Fitness-wise, I still lost a few important balls tonight and I'm going to work on that and try and improve my fitness so I can play the full 90 minutes. If I was a bit fitter, a bit fresher I could have scored three tonight but it was good to be part of it again. I love this competition."
Drogba's third-minute strike gave the 2009 runners-up the ideal start. "It gave us more space and it made it better for us," he added. "As a team we still have a few things to improve. You need to be a strong team to win the Champions League but also you need to be lucky as well. If we keep on playing like this you never know."
If Drogba's inclusion at the expense of Fernando Torres represented a return to the old Chelsea, Oriol Romeu's place in the starting lineup with Frank Lampard left on the bench seemed a clear indicator of the future direction of André Villas-Boas's side.
Along with the energetic Raul Meireles and Ramires, Romeu helped close up the route to goal for a visiting team who dominated possession but found it hard to fashion chances. "I just try to do my best and help my team," said the young midfielder, signed from FC Barcelona in August. "The team is more united and we have gained confidence. We know that in this club there are many people waiting for this trophy and we just want to work hard and give our best."
Valencia, meanwhile, must continue their battle in the UEFA Europa League next year after finishing third in Group E. "We knew we'd have to have possession of the ball from the outset but from defence to counterattack they were brutal in their execution and knew how to take their chances," said striker Roberto Soldado, who singled out a one-time team-mate as Chelsea's danger man.
"[Juan] Mata did a great job; he gave Chelsea another dimension. These are difficult moments for us but we stood up to the challenge and did what we set out to. I think our fans are happy with us despite the result and for that we have to give them our thanks. Now we must look to the UEFA Europa League and fight for that trophy."