Roman demands answers over Villas-Boas's line-up
Pressure mounts as Chelsea owner asks why Lampard and Cole were left out
Andre Villas-Boas was asked to provide an explanation of his unexpected team selection to Roman Abramovich in the wake of Chelsea's 3-1 Champions League defeat to Napoli on Tuesday night.
Villas-Boas met with Michael Emenalo, the club's technical director, as part of the inquest into the 3-1 defeat that left the Premier League club facing a daunting challenge in the second leg at Stamford Bridge if they are to qualify for the quarter-finals of the competition.
Abramovich, the Chelsea owner, wasn't present at Stadio San Paolo to witness the latest disappointing result in a run that has seen Villas-Boas' team drop out of the top four of the Premier League and be held at home in the FA Cup by Birmingham City – all played out against a backdrop of reports of growing player discontent.
He has, however, become a more visible figure at the club this month, becoming a regular visitor at the club's Cobham training ground and speaking to both manager and players in the wake of the recent Premier League defeat at Everton that prompted Villas-Boas to call his squad in for extra training the following day. And the manager acknowledged the questions posed by Emenalo about the game and the manager's decision to name experienced players such as Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard among his substitutes came directly from the owner himself, confirming the level of scrutiny being applied by his employer.
"He is disappointed about the result and asking questions about how we set up the team and they were duly explained," said the manager. "Again, we shared ideas regarding what happened in the game but we still have 90 minutes to play and we strongly believe we can turn the tie around."
Asked who was posing the questions, Villas-Boas said: "The owner." Adding: "I spoke to the people close to the owner to transmit the message, people like Emenalo. That is the normal way we communicate. I see it as normal. He just wants to know the thought process."
The owner's track record of impatience means focus has been trained on Villas-Boas' position, particularly as the Portuguese is the only one of the seven managers employed by Abramovich to enjoy a win rate of less than 50 per cent.
Villas-Boas, though, maintained yesterday he retains the full backing of his employer, dismissing reports Rafael Benitez had been lined up to replace him, later denied by Benitez's agent and Chelsea, by claiming he would like to go for dinner with the Liverpool manager. "My assurance is my work and his [Abramovich's] words and my project for the following seasons. I don't ask every day on the phone 'am I going to be here tomorrow?'"
And while he admits to making some mistakes since succeeding Carlo Ancelotti, the manager refuses to count his team selection in Naples as one of them. "No, I don't have any regrets regarding team selection," he said. "I did the best for the team and it was the selection I felt was completely right."
Anything less than victory against Bolton at home tomorrow will only add to the pressure on a manager who faces his most difficult period of the season without his injured captain and with question marks over his relationship with at least two other senior players.
Villas-Boas maintains he remains on good terms with Lampard and Cole whilst admitting they were less than happy at being omitted from the starting line-up but conceded the loss of John Terry for at least six weeks with a knee problem couldn't have come at a worse time. "We badly miss him. It is a massive loss. A leader and a great performer even through adversity."
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