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Ivanovic bids to be a linchpin for Blues

Branislav Ivanovic has set his sights firmly on becoming a permanent fixture in the Chelsea defence.

The Blues, who were knocked off the top of the Premier League on goal difference by Arsenal in midweek, head to Championship side Preston in the fourth round of the FA Cup tomorrow.

Serbia international Ivanovic has impressed after initially filling in for injured Jose Bosingwa at right-back, and chalked up his 50th appearance in the win over Sunderland.

The 25-year-old intends to make the most of his opportunity.

He said: "For me, the long period in the past two years was when I arrived here and there were problems. After that I started to play and at the moment I feel very comfortable and happy.

"When I started to play I was very happy because I play with great players in a great team and now I start to give my best.

"I didn't count my games but of course it is good for me to play 50. I tried to improve in these games and that I have played 50 games surprised me a little bit.

"Now I try to come to 100 games as soon as possible, quicker than to 50."

Ivanovic, though, is not taking anything for granted and intends to continue his progress as the Blues look to defend the FA Cup.

"I think I improved my language when I started to play," said Ivanovic, who can also play at centre-half.

"It was very hard for me when I arrived and I didn't speak easily. At the moment I think I can speak and I understand a lot of things, but I have to learn more.

"It is important for every player to feel comfortable. We have a good atmosphere and you can improve with these guys."

Midfielder Frank Lampard, meanwhile, insists Chelsea will thrive on the challenges ahead as they battle for honours at home and in Europe.

He said: "A very important period is coming up. The Champions League is starting again, then there will be the Easter period, which is always big, and the run-in is always tight.

"Some teams thrive on that pressure and others not, so we have to make sure we keep going for the full run.

Lampard added: "We believe in ourselves, we have the right attitude and if we continue to play as we did against Sunderland then we have a very good chance of winning the League.

Ghana midfielder Michael Essien has returned to England from the African Nations Cup after injuring his knee during training, with the extent of the problem set to be evaluated by Chelsea's medical staff.