Carlo Ancelotti, the Chelsea manager, cut to the chase yesterday, predicting tomorrow's Premier League title showdown with Manchester United at Old Trafford will be won not by formations and tactics, but by desire and character.
Ancelotti has been schooled in the fine old Italian tradition with its focus on detailed systems and thorough organisation, but faced with a game that will go a long way to deciding this most unpredictable of seasons, he tore up the tactics manual and implored his defending champions to play from the heart.
"I want to say one thing," Ancelotti announced at yesterday's press conference at the training ground in Cobham. "The line-up will not be what decides this game. This game will be decided through the courage of the players, the personality, the character. We don't need to be worried, afraid about this. We have to play at our best. With courage and personality; 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 is not important."
"The players are motivated themselves. They don't have a problem with motivation. The problem is the fear. Being afraid, to lose energy by being too afraid," he said.
Ancelotti accepted that United remain favourites to win the league, but claimed Chelsea have the mental edge going into tomorrow's game, as United have to raise their game again.
"Mentally, we can have an advantage. Man United hoped they wouldn't have to play this kind of game against us. If they'd had more of an advantage, it could have been an easy game against us – not easy, but a different game. Now the title... they have to fight again for the title. Mentally, for this reason, we can have an advantage," Ancelotti said.
He added he was happy that Howard Webb would be officiating, describing the man who refereed the World Cup final last year as "fantastic".
Ancelotti's major selection dilemma concerns whether to start with Didier Drogba or Fernando Torres at the centre of a three-man strike force. Ancelotti predicted all his strikers would be involved . "I want my players to understand that it's not so important to start the game, but that they will be involved, even for 20 minutes. We've won games from players who have come on from the bench," he said.
It was pointed out to Ancelotti yesterday that no team has won at Old Trafford since Chelsea did it, 30 games ago. "It's time to win," the Italian answered with a smile.
P W D L F A Pts
Man Utd 35 21 10 4 71 33 73
Chelsea 35 21 7 7 66 28 70
Arsenal 35 19 10 6 68 36 67
Man City 34 18 8 8 53 31 62
Liverpool 35 16 7 12 54 39 55
Tottenham 34 14 13 7 50 43 55
Everton 35 11 15 9 48 43 48
Bolton 35 12 10 13 48 48 46
Fulham 35 10 15 10 43 36 45
Stoke 35 12 7 16 43 43 43
* Top two's remaining fixtures
* Manchester United
Chelsea (h) Tomorrow
Blackburn (a) Saturday 14 May
Blackpool (h) Sunday 22 May
Man United (a) Tomorrow
Newcastle (h) Sunday 15 May
Everton (a) Sunday 22 MayReuse content