Ferguson backs Ancelotti – and then buries him

 

Old Trafford

The programme notes are often a harbinger. Just as their tone softened towards Arsène Wenger as Arsenal's threat receded, so Sir Alex Ferguson sought to praise Carlo Ancelotti before he buried him yesterday. "What he has experienced in England seems particularly unfounded. He doesn't deserve to be questioned or his future queried in the way it has been this season," the Manchester United manager said.



Well, no-one could query Ancelotti's courage. The front row seats of the directors' box – occupied by Roman Abramovich's son Arkady; Chelsea chief executive Ron Gourlay; Bob Diamond – the Barclays chief executive who handed John Terry the Premier League trophy last May; and Bobby Campbell, ex-manager and Abramovich adviser – looked like the hanging jury it is, but the manager standing 50 yards in front of them revealed himself to be his own man, as he dispensed with the owner's striker Fernando Torres in favour of Didier Drogba.

David Luiz was Ancelotti's own man, too – the player the Chelsea manager lobbied to have when Abramovich was opening his chequebook in January – but it was he who quickly wrecked the Italian's best laid plans. Luiz will surely become a world-class player one day but the sight of £6m Javier Hernandez racing away from the fallen £21m Portuguese was a morality tale about the lack of certainty that follows the big money buys. They are now a decreasing part of United's landscape.

Ancelotti is not generally an expressive individual on the touchline but even he failed to contain the dismal sense of bewilderment and despair he felt at the sight of Hernandez – who said his prayers and heard them answered in the space of the game's first minute – racing onto Park Ji-sung's pass while Luiz sat prone on the pitch. Luiz, arms outstretched, retorted "Not me", to his manager, which crystallised the sense that Chelsea's players were hiding. It was the fastest league goal Chelsea have conceded since 2004.

Luiz is the player whose goal against United at Stamford Bridge 69 days ago had ended Chelsea 's four-month winter slump and fired the side into the unbeaten run which had taken them here. But he has also become a player Ancelotti knows is as likely to create defensive mayhem as a piece of magic. Chelsea's need of him reflects one of the critical miscalculations which Abramovich will now weigh up. Ricardo Carvalho, who has flourished at Real Madrid, should no more have been released than Michael Ballack, because Jeffrey Bruma was not ready to step into his shoes. If Luiz's error did not sum up Chelsea's need of a command force in central defence then the sight of Nemanja Vidic, the most dangerous aerial threat in the United side, powering through unhindered to thump home a header after Ryan Giggs had ghosted past Salamon Kalou, certainly did. Kalou was absent in every sense, incidentally. His pointed protest when he scored against Tottenham last week told Ancelotti: "Pick me" – so the Italian did so yesterday. All he saw was more maddeningly inconsistency and proof that Kalou's mere 15 league starts these past nine months do not constitute an injustice.

In fairness, it has been testament to Ancelotti's powers of motivation that Chelsea have made it back at all from 15 points adrift on 1 March, with a side also shorn of the peaks attained last season by Frank Lampard and Michael Essien – neither of whom overwhelmed a United midfield in a way some other sides have this season. "I want to say thank you to them because for two months we were the best team in the Premier League," Ancelotti said last night.

This, though, was the match that proved the considerable gulf between the nation's top two sides. There have been seven Chelsea wins out of eight since that Stamford Bridge victory over United but you need to appreciate the modest opposition – Blackpool, (an unambitious) Manchester City, Stoke City, Wigan Athletic, West Bromwich, Birmingham City, West Ham and Tottenham – to appreciate the points tally. Ferguson didn't change his formation from the two Champions League victories over Chelsea and the effect was much the same. For all the Abramovich money, Ancelotti still also lacked a right-back when it came down to it. Jose Bosingwa's knee injury has spared his game further close scrutiny but Branislav Ivanovic's big moment was fairly wretched yesterday.

Ancelotti made an impressively understated case for being around leading the re-build job, last night. "United played with more continuity through the season and played good football," he said. Continuity is a quality which comes with managerial longevity, though the prospects of Ancelotti being given allowance for one bad year – and of the tone of Ferguson 's programme notes revealing chillier relations with his favourite Italian manager – look slim indeed.

 



Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

Escape from Everest base camp

Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
Blake Lively and 'The Age of Adaline': Gossip Girl comes
of age

Gossip girl comes of age

Blake Lively is best known for playing an affluent teenager. Her role as a woman who is trapped forever at 29 is a greater challenge
Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

Goat cuisine

It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
14 best coat hooks

Hang on: 14 best coat hooks

Set the tone for the rest of your house with a stylish and functional coat rack in the hallway
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?