Ballack calls for end to set-piece errors

Chelsea players hold inquest over worrying tendency to leak goals
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The Independent Online

Player power has reared its head at Chelsea again, but for the moment at least it is being voiced in support of manager Carlo Ancelotti rather than against him.

Strong words have been exchanged in the Chelsea dressing room in the aftermath of Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Aston Villa. Senior players have been pointing figures and apportioning blame in the hope peer pressure will end the string of individual mistakes that have cost Chelsea goals from set-pieces.

The players have voiced their opinions more than once before at Stamford Bridge. Ancelotti's predecessor Luiz Felipe Scolari fell victim to the strength of the Chelsea dressing room last season, when senior professionals made it known they were dissatisfied with the former Brazil manager's tactics and training.

Successive away defeats in the Premier League – Chelsea also lost 3-1 at Wigan last month – mean Ancelotti's progress is now under scrutiny, particularly tonight's visit of Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. This time the players' ire is being turned on themselves rather than on the manager, as they seek to eradicate the recent spate of individual errors.

At Villa Park on Saturday, Ricardo Carvalho was at fault when he stopped marking Richard Dunne, allowing the Villa centre-back a simple headed goal from a corner. Later Didier Drogba failed to challenge as James Collins scored the winning goal, again from a Villa corner. Chelsea captain John Terry was clearly furious with the lack of marking. Michael Ballack, who missed the match with injury, revealed yesterday that Terry's anger had been shared by many players in the Chelsea dressing room. The squad met up on Monday at the club's Cobham training ground when players gave full vent to their frustrations.

Ballack said: "His [Terry's] reaction on the pitch showed that he takes a big responsibility not just for himself but for the team. That's what you need, emotions like that, to make sure it doesn't happen again.

"We speak with each other. We have no problem criticising each other in the dressing room. A good team with strong players has to do this. We've done that, then we shake hands and get back on to the training pitch and try to do better.

"Everyone has to improve his movement, his defensive organisation in the box. It's a point of personal attitude: don't concede a goal. We can train a lot of things, but if someone falls asleep in a situation, we concede a goal."

The situation at Chelsea is rare in English football. Few squads of players exert as much influence on the hierarchy of the club. The over-abundance of senior figures makes it tough for Ancelotti to know exactly how to handle the dressing room. So far he has let the players have their heads. Ancelotti said: "I think what is important is that the players speak about these situations and talk together about things that might go wrong. With this, we can improve. We did the same in Milan. I have always believed the players have to take responsibility."

Atletico, for whom Diego Forlan is expected to return from injury, come to Stamford Bridge this evening in wretched form, after a 3-0 defeat to Osasuna on Sunday which left them 15th in La Liga. They have won just once in the League. Chelsea, who are unbeaten at home in Europe since February 2006, will be without the suspended Drogba, and the injured Jose Bosingwa.

Group D

Results: Chelsea 1 Porto 0; Atletico 0 Apoel 0; Apoel 0 Chelsea 1; Porto 2 Atletico 0.

Chelsea's remaining group stage fixtures: Tonight: Atletico (h); 3 Nov: Atletico (a); 25 Nov: Porto (a); 8 Dec: Apoel (h).

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