It is to be hoped for Chelsea's sake that the scene which unfolded in the Ewood Park press room early on Sunday evening is not a metaphor for how things are going to be in the side's dressing room over the next six weeks. The sight of Carlo Ancelotti conferring after each question with his interpreter, who then conferred with a member of Chelsea's staff, before the Italian responded, hardly conveyed the impression of a manager and a club with a firm grip on their currently drifting hopes of a title.
If fluency in English is any barometer of a fluent drive for the English football championship then Ancelotti is some distance behind his countrymen. Roberto Mancini's public pronouncements do not by any means elicit colourful stories at Manchester City but he is at least a man coming to grips with his present milieu.
If anything, he seems rather too willing to dispense with the interpreter before diving in to answer questions he doesn't entirely understand. Ancelotti, facing the first on-field crisis of his nine-month Chelsea tenure, just looks glum – and those who witnessed him trying to communicate at Blackburn wondered how on earth he tried to rouse the Chelsea dressing room at half time, after their opening 30 minutes of dominance against Rovers had evaporated.
Ancelotti has never been a theatrical man. His is the detached, unperturbed perspective, making him a monochrome figure next to Fabio Capello, who participates far more directly, logically seeking alternative strategies when the current ones are letting him down. The question for Chelsea is what the alternatives might be, given the club's injury list. Two full backs, Jose Bosingwa and now Branislav Ivanovic, are out of action, as are Michael Ballack, Ricardo Carvalho and Michael Essien. In these circumstances, Ancelotti finds his team picks itself.
It would help if those fit in body were also ready in mind. One of the extraordinary aspects of Sunday's 1-1 draw at Blackburn, which left the title in Manchester United's hands, was the sight of John Terry strolling across to deal with balls sent up to Blackburn substitute Jason Roberts – then finding himself desperately short of the pace to keep up. Yes, that's Jason Roberts we're talking about, popular in parts of Lancashire but whose most colourful wikipedia entry – "Zinedine Zidane once described him as the most complete footballer he had ever seen after watching Rovers' victory over Wigan" – still lacks a citation.
Terry has looked like a defender wearing moon boots since 10 February – that day, deep in the midst of the Vanessa Perroncel scandal, when Louis Saha ran him ragged across Goodison Park. Ancelotti did not even bother turning up in the press room that night, leaving his assistant Ray Wilkins to explain in earnest tones that "Carlo's giving him a bit of time [off]. They've had a little chat, John and Carlo, and decided that will be best for all concerned." Swapping a part in the FA Cup win at Cardiff for the doghouse with his wife in Dubai has not made the blindest bit of difference.
Frank Lampard looked flat at Blackburn, part of a Chelsea side who failed to show any sense of urgency until dusk had settled and the fourth official's dot matrix board revealed there were four minutes to save things. When Sam Allardyce awoke yesterday he might have found himself nursing a twinge of regret that he had deployed only one striker. With two, Blackburn might have taken all the points.
Ancelotti will find out soon enough how United or Arsenal's resources measure up to his own. Not only because of his own side's potentially momentous visit to Old Trafford a week on Saturday, but because Ewood awaits both Arsène Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson. It will be for them both to find a way through an obdurate Allardyce side who have not been beaten at home since Tottenham left with the points back on 19 December. Both United and Arsenal must also face Tottenham and Manchester City: there is really very little to chose from the three sides' run-ins, though Chelsea, with Liverpool and Aston Villa to play, face arguably the most difficult.
First, Chelsea must hope that the omens of meeting two former managers inside eight days – Avram Grant lies in wait at Fratton Park tomorrow night – are not too grim. The expectations of Roman Abramovich weigh heavy, and although John Obi Mikel yesterday became the latest Chelsea player to declare that the club's proprietor had only called in at Cobham on Thursday " to show support", the manager could badly do with the owner settling for the Mohammed al-Fayed arm's-length mode of football club ownership.
It is not just the involvement of Abramovich which is a worry, though. If Chelsea maintain their current direction of travel – they now lie third in the table after last weekend's matches – will Abramovich really have the energy to hire a fifth manager in seven years, with whom to rebuild a squad which, before their exit from the Champions League, was the third oldest in the tournament? The answer may be no. If that endgame starts to play out and Abramovich looks to move on, the struggle will become a tumult.
All of which may be an irrelevance. The South Coast tomorrow may presage the start of the fightback. It's been that kind of a season. And who, after all, said you need perfectly comprehensible English to win a Premier League title? Sir Alex Ferguson has 11 to his name.Reuse content