Two defeats in four days for the Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti, and the Italian yesterday pointed the finger at his much-vaunted midfield. Ancelotti took the unusual step of criticising some of his star players and is likely to back it up by giving 18-year-old Gaël Kakuta his first start against Apoel Nicosia tonight.
The diamond formation has been one of the main reasons Chelsea have built up their lead at the top of the Premier League, an advantage that was cut from five points to two by their defeat at Manchester City on Saturday. Yet Ancelotti's analysis of the surprise defeat at Eastlands was that his vastly experienced midfield quartet of Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack, Michael Essien and Deco were unable to cope with the energy and persistence of their counterparts in sky blue.
Hence the probable inclusion of Kakuta for tonight's home tie in the final match of the Champions League group stages. Ancelotti is keen to give the young Frenchman, who has been dubbed the next Zidane, plenty of opportunities to play in case his four-month ban that is currently in limbo is reinstated by the Court of Arbitration in Sport when Chelsea's appeal against Fifa's transfer ban is heard early next year.
Kakuta will be keen to atone for missing the decisive penalty last week at Blackburn that lost a Carling Cup quarter-final. In his previous two outings for the club the teenager has shown glimpses of the talent that made Chelsea so keen to sign him from Lens they attracted a two-window transfer ban from Fifa. The visit of the Cypriot champions, who have yet to win a game in the Champions League, should be the perfect opportunity for Kakuta to prove he is worth all the fuss as Chelsea have already secured top spot in the group.
Ancelotti clearly felt something went wrong across the middle of the park at the weekend. "The problem was that Manchester City put strong pressure on our midfield, and we were not able to play through from behind," he said. "We had this difficulty. There was nothing else. We have to work, to improve, and when the opponent puts pressure on our midfield we have to improve our play, so we can open them up with the ball and use our offensive players.
"Manchester City used tactics that they didn't use in their last few games. Their defensive line was very high. They played offside well, and I think that for us it was a surprise."
City's high-energy performance demonstrated that Chelsea's midfield can be as much of a weakness as a strength. Ballack (33), Deco (32) and Lampard (31) are all coming towards the latter parts of their careers, and when Essien is off-colour, as he was on Saturday, then Chelsea struggle for impetus.
Ancelotti, however, defended Petr Cech, who has been blamed for Carlos Tevez's winner at Eastlands. Cech has a slight knee injury and will be rested tonight, with former Middlesbrough keeper Ross Turnbull coming in for his first start for Chelsea. Ancelotti admitted Cech was at fault for the Tevez free-kick but said his faith in his goalkeeper has not been diminished. "I know keepers. Sometimes they miss, sometimes they save. I am happy with Petr. I like him because I never in my career had a goalkeeper that comes out as much, and takes a risk to go for the ball, and for this I like Petr," Ancelotti said.
Captain John Terry, who picked up a knee injury in Manchester on Saturday, is likely to be rested. Ancelotti has added the 18-year-olds Jeffrey Bruma, Nikki Ahamed, Daniel Philliskirk and Fabio Borini to his squad.Reuse content