What's wrong at Chelsea – and will Ancelotti be given the time to fix it?

From flawed transfers to the lack of a Plan B, things have gone awry at the Bridge. Mark Fleming suggests how to stop the slide.
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Chelsea's shocking loss of form is worrying enough but of greater concern to owner Roman Abramovich will be manager Carlo Ancelotti's apparent inability to bring it to an end.

The slump began on 7 November with a 2-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield, and as yet shows no sign of abating. Defeat to Marseilles on Wednesday was the fourth suffered by the club in the eight games, a run of failure that could prove the undoing of Ancelotti, with Abramovich not a man to sit idly by while his club starts to unravel.

Chelsea's forthcoming games against Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Arsenal will determine Ancelotti's fate, and there are certain key areas that last season's Double winners must address if they are to come through the next fortnight unscathed.

1. Ancelotti's relationship with his players has deteriorated

The Italian earned the respect and admiration of the Chelsea squad with his calm, considered reaction to a run of poor results early this year that culminated with the Champions League elimination to Internazionale. This season however the relationship does not appear to be working well.

Abramovich's decision to sack assistant Ray Wilkins was poorly received by the squad's English contingent, and served to undermine Ancelotti's authority. The Wilkins affair also raised the question of whether Ancelotti could have fought harder to keep his right-hand man at the club, at least until the end of the season.

Ancelotti called last Saturday's home game with Everton one of the most important of the season, but the team's abject second-half display in a 1-1 draw suggests his message did not get through.

In previous years, particularly when they reached the 2008 Champions League final under Avram Grant, Chelsea's senior players have played the decisive role, particularly captain John Terry, who said he is over his recent injury problems.

His message is clear. He said: "It's about staying together and believing in each other. There's no point pointing the finger because we have all not done as well as we did earlier on in the season. We are not going to dig each other out. It's about being told and listening to what each other has to say because we have got a lot of experience in the dressing room and I'm sure someone can come up with something to get us out of this hole."

2. Chelsea could do with a Plan B

Tactically, Chelsea are too predictable. The 4-3-3 system that Ancelotti adopted midway through last season places a heavy burden on the midfield trio; when a player of the calibre of Frank Lampard is missing for almost four months, they struggle.

When things were going well earlier this season, the front three were playing wonderful, off-the-cuff football. That spontaneous creativity has gone, the goals have dried up, but Ancelotti has not come up with another approach to try to change Chelsea's style, other than occasionally switching mid-match to 4-4-2.

The opposition have worked out that if they don't allow Chelsea to get up a head of steam, they can become frustrated and stifled. Chelsea have also been guilty of defending too deep, although the return of Terry should prevent that happening.

3. They are paying the price for a flawed transfer policy

In the past two years, Chelsea have spent more than £50m recruiting new players, not one of which has yet to prove a decent buy. Yuri Zhirkov, Ross Turnbull, Daniel Sturridge, Yossi Benayoun and Ramires have proved poor replacements for the likes of Michael Ballack, Joe Cole, Ricardo Carvalho and Arjen Robben. Chelsea reportedly turned down the chance to buy Rafael van der Vaart for £8m last summer, and Mexican striker Javier Hernandez was not even on their radar. It is true Chelsea have been hit with injuries this season to Terry and Lampard, but their transfer activity in recent years left them woefully short of cover.

4. Key players are below par

With Terry, Alex and Lampard out injured, along with Didier Drogba being struck down with malaria, Ancelotti was hoping for more from other senior players such as Nicolas Anelka, Ashley Cole, Michael Essien and Florent Malouda. However they have failed to respond to the challenge. Essien in particular has been disappointing since he started the season with such a bang. His loss of discipline in the dying moments against Fulham last month, when he was sent off for a silly challenge on Clint Dempsey with the game won, earned him a ban of three matches, in which Chelsea managed just a single point.

5. Confidence is low

Terry admits he has never seen Chelsea in as bad a slump as they are in now, during his 11 years in the first team. They look vulnerable, and are unable to keep it going when they play well. He said, however, that there is a determination among the squad not to let the Premier League title be captured without a fight.

"The players realise that if we don't start winning again soon then we are going to be giving it away to Man Utd who are not playing well at the moment or to Arsenal who are not playing well at the moment," he said. "We are not out of it. We are still in with a very good chance. We certainly have the ability and the players to go to places like Tottenham, to go to Arsenal and get great wins like we have done in previous years."

Chelsea's slump in form

Last eight games Won 2, Drawn 2, Lost 4 - 8 points from 24.

Marseilles 1-0 Chelsea (8 Dec)

Chelsea 1-1 Everton (4 Dec)

Newcastle 1-1 Chelsea (28 Nov)

Chelsea 2-1 MSK Zilina (23 Nov)

Birmingham 1-0 Chelsea (20 Nov)

Chelsea 0-3 Sunderland (14 Nov)

Chelsea 1-0 Fulham (10 Nov)

Liverpool 2-0 Chelsea (7 Nov)