FA Cup holders Chelsea will not release their grip on the trophy without a fight, after senior figures at the club told incoming manager Carlo Ancelotti in the summer that retaining the Cup must be one of his priorities for the season ahead.
Ancelotti took charge on 1 July with the twin goals of regaining the Premier League title the club won under Jose Mourinho in 2005 and 2006, while at the same time claiming the Champions League for the first time in the club's history. Yet Ancelotti was also told that retaining the FA Cup is just as important to the club that won the trophy for the fifth time by beating Everton 2-1 in last season's final at Wembley.
Ancelotti said: "I think that I know very well how important this competition is. The first thing that the club said to me is that the FA Cup is not the Italian Cup. That was one of the first things they said to me. The club want to win this competition, just like the Premiership or the Champions League. It's the same.
"It's a very important competition in England. In Italy, the Italian Cup is not so important. We want to do our best. It is one of our objectives, our aim, to win it. Last year we won it. We want to do the best again this year."
Chelsea host Watford tomorrow with Ancelotti convinced his side can put their recent slump behind them. His confidence comes from what he saw his team achieve in the 2-1 victory over Fulham on Monday, when the players seized the initiative in the dressing room at half-time and subsequently overturned a 1-0 deficit after they were booed off the pitch by the Stamford Bridge supporters. The players celebrated the win by going into a huddle on the pitch, a public show of unity that looked for all the world like something out of the Phil Brown school of motivation.
Yet Ancelotti said he believed the spirit the team showed before and after the second-half performance against Fulham was a crucial moment in Chelsea's season. "I don't know what they spoke about in that meeting [the huddle], but it was a very good thing to have. They showed that they are a very good team. This was an important moment for the team. It's the first time that they have done this. It's very important.
"Also, at the end of the first half, some players – Didier Drogba, John Terry, Frank Lampard – ensured there was a really good atmosphere in the dressing room. I only spoke about what we wanted to do with changing the system. Only this. The players put a very good atmosphere in the dressing room."
"I saw a fantastic reaction against Fulham. I have experience in football and it's very difficult to change a game like my players did against Fulham. For me, that was a surprise. That reaction. It was fantastic: the determination, the personality. They wanted to win that game."
The Watford game is Chelsea's first without African quartet Michael Essien, Salomon Kalou, John Obi Mikel and Drogba. Ancelotti has said he is happy to rely on young strikers Daniel Sturridge and Fabio Borini to see Chelsea through the month of the African Cup of Nations, but is still likely to recall Nicolas Anelka to the side after the Frenchman recovered from a hamstring injury.Reuse content