For a few minutes yesterday Carlo Ancelotti joined his Chelsea players in a gentle warm-up before training. He jogged up and down, missed out a couple of stretches, then waggled his hips in a circle before calling it a day. At the age of 51, his joints aren't quite up to it, and it was back to the day job once more for the Chelsea manager.
Fantasising you are a player once again must be a common daydream for those former pros who turn to management, particularly when a big game such as a Champions League quarter-final is on the horizon. And particularly when you work for someone as capricious as Roman Abramovich, knowing that your job could end with the next untimely defeat.
Tonight's visit of Manchester United marks Ancelotti's 100th game in charge of Chelsea, quite an achievement in its own right given the frequency of the changing of the guard under Abramovich.
Yet the chances of Ancelotti staying at Stamford Bridge for another century of games look a lot slimmer than he did in his Chelsea tracksuit. While victory tonight in the first leg of this all-English Champions League quarter-final would undoubtedly strengthen his case, there is a perception that Ancelotti has not done enough to prevent the season from unravelling. Redemption could yet come in the Champions League, an escape route that Ancelotti has taken before.
The Italian twice led Milan to the Champions League trophy, and his experience and expertise in European football's pre-eminent competition was a decisive factor when he was given the Chelsea job by Abramovich in June 2009. Nevertheless, they went out at the first knock-out stage last season, losing both legs to eventual winners Internazionale. Defeat to United in the quarter-finals this season would surely test Abramovich's patience to breaking point.
The precarious nature of management is something to which Ancelotti has grown accustomed. "We have to look forward – to another 100 games. My aim is this. But for the manager the aim is to reach the end of the season," he said yesterday.
Ancelotti lives for these seminal games, even though they are not quite as much fun as they used to be. "I prefer it when I was a player. I say to my players there will be pressure but the most important thing is we have to be happy," he said. "Every player wants to play this kind of game. Obviously there is pressure because we want to win. But my emotion is this – happy to be involved in this game."
The task facing Ancelotti's team this evening is a familiar one – trying to overcome the collective talents of Manchester United. The two clubs have shared the Premier League trophy for the past six seasons, and contested the 2008 Champions League final in Moscow, when Ferguson's side won 6-5 on penalties following a 1-1 draw after extra-time.
Chelsea are currently 11 points behind United in the Premier League, but the London club won the last encounter 2-1 a month ago, and go into tonight's home leg on a run of 10 games unbeaten against United at Stamford Bridge, a record stretching back almost a decade. In addition, Ancelotti has seven victories to Ferguson's three when the pair have gone head-to-head as managers. But while domestically Chelsea can claim parity with United in recent years, their record in Europe falls short. United have won three European Cups; Chelsea have none. Ancelotti was brought in to break that run, as was £50m striker Fernando Torres.
Ancelotti said yesterday that he does not hold the secret to European glory. "There is no magic touch," he said. "My [Champions League] record is good, yes, but maybe because I try to understand how is the feeling in the squad. If there are a lot of pressures, I try to maintain the team."
Ancelotti will be without defender David Luiz, who is ineligible to play in Europe, and must decide whether to drop Torres, who has now endured 527 goalless minutes since his move from Liverpool. Ancelotti defended Torres yesterday, but would not be drawn on whether the club's record signing will start. "He doesn't have a problem. The feeling is good. I am not the type of manager who feels if a player is not playing well he will not give him the possibility to play again. I want to support the player if the moment is not so good. I am happy with Fernando's performances," he said.
Frank Lampard will play his 500th Chelsea game tonight and will become only the fourth player to reach the landmark. He refuted suggestions that revenge for 2008 was on Chelsea's agenda. "It might make a good headline, but we're not after revenge. Disappointments in your career spur you on," he said.
Ancelotti 7 Ferguson 3
1998-99 Champions League semi-final: Man Utd 1-1 Juventus (first leg), Juventus 2-3 Man Utd (second leg) (Man Utd won 4-3 on aggregate)
2004-05 Champions League first knock-out round: Man Utd 0-1 Milan (first leg), Milan 1-0 Man Utd (second leg) (Milan won 2-0 on aggregate)
2006-07 Champions League semi-final: Man Utd 3-2 Milan (first leg), Milan 3-0 Man Utd (second leg) (Milan won 5-3 on aggregate)
2009-10 Community Shield: Man Utd 2-2 Chelsea (Chelsea won 4-1 on pens), Premier League Chelsea 1-0 Man Utd, Man Utd 1-2 Chelsea
2010-11 Community Shield: Chelsea 1-3 Man Utd, Premier League Chelsea 2-1 Man Utd
Total Carlo Ancelotti 7-3 Alex Ferguson with one match drawn