James Lawton: Ancelotti risks Drogba's wrath in desire for pace
Monday 27 September 2010
It may well have been the defining moment of Chelsea's season, the substituted Didier Drogba rolling his eyes in disbelief and disdain and Carlo Ancelotti performing a barely perceptible shrug of indifference.
Drogba had had his chance to make a point or two against the impressively marshalled resolve of Manchester City and had failed, massively, which no doubt explained why Ancelotti was no more accommodating to Drogba after a defeat he was ready to explain with a quite brutal simplicity
"I took Drogba off because I wanted to use (Daniel) Sturridge," he said. "He was fresh and we needed more speed in front. No, I don't remember Drogba shouting at me in the first half. When the game was over I had an easy message to give my players. It was, 'when we play as individuals, we lose; when we play as a team, we win.' This is it, the story of the match."
Somewhere in Ancelotti's statement of unyielding principle, Drogba's finer feelings, which some say were at least partly instrumental in the swift failure of World Cup-winning Luiz Felipe Scolari's Chelsea regime, were tossed on to the refuse heap reserved by the stronger coaches for the cult of the personality.
A wiser Drogba might have reined in his pain at being replaced by a mere apprentice and in favour of taking home a match video. Then he would have seen clearly enough scant evidence of his recent awesome form, and at precisely the time it was needed most.
No doubt Ancelotti will already have pointed out that such self-examination will benefit not just Drogba but the majority of the team. City, as Ancelotti conceded readily enough, produced a superbly committed performance, intense and physically relentless and with just enough threat to stop and then defeat Chelsea after their clinical and often mesmerising march through the Premier League's lower orders. But Chelsea's post-match analysis most demanded a rigorous assessment of their own failures.
They were scarcely recognisable as the team who, unlike all of their most serious rivals, among whom City certainly announced their serious presence, were able to cut through lesser opposition as though they were taking a machete to the undergrowth.
Drogba was the most conspicuous failure but he was closely followed by the recently luminous Florent Malouda, the apparently resurrected Michael Essien and Brazil's World Cup midfielder Ramires, who never began to suggest he could make anyone forget the absence of Frank Lampard.
Ramires surrendered possession repeatedly as City's Nigel De Jong, Yaya Touré and Gareth Barry refused to yield a single advantage. It also helped hugely that Carlos Tevez and David Silva maintained a waspish threat, one that was confirmed when Tevez sped away to exploit another donation from Ramires – and Ashley Cole's recently untypical lapse of granting an opponent too much time and space.
Ancelotti stepped back from reproaching individuals – he could hardly take back his verdict on Drogba – but he has rarely expressed so keenly his displeasure with a team performance.
"I think we prepared well for the game. We knew how they would play, that they would want to stay back and defend well and play on the counter-attack. We were not able to do this because we played too complicated in their half, with a lot of dribbling. There was no speed in their half with the ball. We needed to move the ball more quickly. It was strange that we lost the fight in midfield and for this reason we lost the game. We didn't have the possibility to play our football – and also because they had fantastic defence, fantastic power in the tackles."
Ancelotti explained the post-game protests of Cole and John Terry concerned the Chelsea belief that referee Andre Marriner was too slow to punish some of City's heavier tackling, especially from the young full-back Dedryek Boyata and Barry's full-blooded collision with Chelsea full-back Branislav Ivanovic. Ancelotti added: "The referee couldn't whistle because he had left his whistle at home."
It was an accusation that could not be levelled at the manager. His warnings were piercing enough, both on the extent of Chelsea's fall from the brilliant standard they had set in the early going and the reality of City's threat if they can maintain this kind of intensity. "City are very good," he said. "They have the possibility to run us close and are growing quickly. Yes, they will be an opponent for the title."
For his own players, Ancelotti could not have had a more specific message. He has always insisted that a drama should never be made of one defeat – but then nor should some of its implications be ignored. Here, the lesson was unequivocal. Too many players had let themselves them down. No-one more so, he could not have made it clearer, than the indignant Didier Drogba.
How Alan missed a trick
The Match of the Day pundit has been heavily criticised recently after some gaps in his knowledge emerged. The Independent's Glenn Moore did his bit in Saturday's paper, producing a handy cut-out-and-keep guide to help Shearer analyse City's game. Alas, Alan did not heed the advice about getting the right 'David' – he garbled his lines in Saturday's broadcast, confusing Barça goalscorer David Villa with City's David Silva.
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