Ancelotti trusts in 'better' Torres to bring an end to 'bad moments'
Tuesday 22 February 2011
Not for the want of trying, Carlo Ancelotti sometimes grasps for the right English phrase to express his feelings and finds himself empty-handed. His description of his club's three-month slump as a "bad moment" is one such example. But when the Chelsea manager attempted to convey his sense of determination yesterday he managed an appropriately dramatic rallying for a particularly bleak time.
"Wait," implored Ancelotti. "The season is not finished yet. It could be the best season in memory. Maybe it could be the worst. I don't know. But wait, wait. Chelsea has not died. It's still alive."
The vital signs have been badly missing at times over the 19 games since Ancelotti's assistant, Ray Wilkins, was sacked, a watershed moment in the season whether you believe it was crucial to the subsequent slump in results or not. Chelsea have won just six games since Wilkins departed, a ludicrous record for a club that have established themselves over the last eight years as a powerhouse of European football.
Yesterday, with his captain alongside him, Ancelotti delivered arguably his most convincing performance yet to suggest that all is not lost. It helped that John Terry was on-message and in spiky mood, although not quite as spiky as when he took the England manager, Fabio Capello, to task in Rustenburg last summer.
Sat next to Terry, who had far more questions directed his way at the Parken Stadium last night, Ancelotti seemed to catch a little of his captain's enthusiasm to remind people of Chelsea's achievements over the last 12 months. Terry warned those who would dare to write his team-mates off not to speak too soon, but it was Ancelotti who captured those thoughts in a single quotation.
Are Chelsea still alive? Ancelotti appealed to the Italians in the room to cast their minds back to 2007 when his Milan team fell away badly in the league and finished fourth, an eye-watering 36 points behind the champions Internazionale. But the Champions League title that Ancelotti secured in the final against Liverpool in Athens in May was not a bad consolation prize.
Yet Ancelotti's admission that as well as being Chelsea's best season it could also turn out to be their worst was a nod to the reality of the situation and his own phlegmatic approach to football's outrageous fortunes. This is a dangerous game tonight against a bright young side with nothing to lose and an ambitious young coach in Stale Solbakken, who was confident enough to argue with Pep Guardiola on the touchline at the Nou Camp.
Ancelotti has to decide how he configures his team in the knowledge that, after 77 days' rest from competitive football, FC Copenhagen will be fresher than Chelsea. He will start with Fernando Torres tonight – his first Champions League game as a Chelsea player – who, Ancelotti said, was looking "better". "He has been working and we used the fact that he was not able to play against Everton to improve his condition," Ancelotti said.
But who else? The likelihood is that it will be Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka behind Torres as a pair with a midfield trio behind them of Ramires, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien. That would mean leaving out Didier Drogba, who has come to Chelsea's rescue so many times over the years. These are the kind of big decisions that can keep a manager in a job or hasten him to the door.
"The players have always put in fantastic effort," Ancelotti said. "I've never complained about this. This is football. It's sometimes very difficult staying at the top all the time. You sometimes manage when it's not a good moment. The season is not finished. A lot of times, I've been able to manage [in] this moment. In 2007, it was the same situation, I should remind you."
When Terry tried to frame the argument that it could be a "blessing in disguise" that Chelsea find themselves out of the two domestic cup competitions and adrift in the title race, you got the sense of straw being clutched at. However, if this situation does not focus minds then nothing will.
Chelsea simply cannot afford not to qualify for the Champions League with a financial model that they are trying to knock into shape for the introduction of Uefa's financial fair play model in two years' time. With more than £70m spent last month and the promise of more in the summer, it would have been a squeeze even in the most promising circumstances. Without the Champions League revenue they will be even more reliant on owner Roman Abramovich's largesse.
"By the looks of things, he's not going to buy [just] these two players [Torres and David Luiz], sit back and hope for the best," Terry said of the owner. "It's always important to strengthen our squad. If we can add, we can be a very good force in the league and in Europe."
Winning the Champions League is the hardest way of ensuring a place in the competition the following season but it was how Liverpool qualified in 2005 when they finished fifth behind Everton. In the short term, what Chelsea and Ancelotti are looking for is something more symbolic. If they beat FC Copenhagen tonight, or at least leave themselves set fair to win the tie, then they can begin to turn the corner.
Vulnerable and playing away from home, Ancelotti needs that kind of performance tonight from his team. Then they need to beat Manchester United on Tuesday, Blackpool and Manchester City while seeing off FC Copenhagen at home in the meantime. Only then will we be able to tell that this has the potential to be the best of seasons rather than the worst – which is the way it is currently heading for Chelsea's manager.
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