It is rare for a manager, at a crucial stage of the season, to admit his team have weaknesses. But Carlo Ancelotti yesterday spoke of how his ageing squad of players carry the scars of the last three seasons, years in which they have come close to winning both the Champions League and the Premier League but have ended with neither.
Asked if his players had doubts about their ability to see off Manchester United and Arsenal in the closest title race for years, Ancelotti said: "Maybe in their minds, there could be this thought having come so close in the Premier League and the Champions League. Chelsea haven't won the title for a long time, so we need to win this. We have been at the top of the table for a long time, and we want to get back there and stay there to win this title.
"I think this is the time for Chelsea to win. The players believe because they have stayed eight months at the top of the table... for this reason, they believe it. Until now, I think we have deserved to win it."
Ancelotti politely declined yesterday when he was invited to give an Italian translation for "squeaky bum time", the phrase slightly mistakenly attributed to Sir Alex Ferguson to describe the decisive weeks of the football season. The Chelsea manager admitted he shares Ferguson's sense of nervous anticipation, but insisted its equivalent in Italian is a little too graphic.
Ancelotti certainly gave no impression that the pressure might be getting to him, as it clearly has to his fellow countryman Roberto Mancini at Manchester City. He has been criticised for being too laid back in the wake of Chelsea's Champions League elimination by Internazionale, but the plus side of his affable temperament is that he is less likely to panic despite a run of injuries that now includes Ricardo Carvalho, who is set to be out for a month with a damaged ankle.
In his first season at Chelsea after eight years with Milan, the Italian is contesting the title race against a pair of experienced and successful managers in Ferguson and Arsenal's Arsène Wenger. It is not a new feeling for Ancelotti. "Every season for me, at the end of the campaign, was very important," he said. "We were either involved in Serie A or the semi-finals and final of the Champions League. To stay focused for me is not a problem with pressure. Doubts? No. I am an optimist and I would like to win it. From the start of the season until the end, I want to do my best. So our destiny is in our own hands."
He did concede, however, that last week's defeat by Internazionale had hit the players' morale but claimed the convincing victory at Portsmouth on Wednesday had changed the mood dramatically. He also added that not playing the two legs of a Champions League quarter-final, which both United and Arsenal must do, will give his men a physical edge.
"Mentally, it wasn't good for us to go out of the Champions League," he said. "But after the victory against Portsmouth this moment is finished. We are disappointed to be out of the cup, but it could be an advantage. The quarter-finals will take out a lot of energy, not only physically but mentally. We can take advantage of that if we prepare well our own games, and if we play with a good high tempo. After the game against Portsmouth there was a different atmosphere: more excited, more confident."
Ancelotti challenged his players to put on a show today against Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge, to set up next weekend's showdown with United at Old Trafford.
"I hope we will do a fantastic game: not only for the victory, but we want to play well and show we're out of our bad moment and can look forward with optimism to the Manchester United game," Ancelotti said.