Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti yesterday confessed his players had not shown enough desire to win during their recent slump. Ancelotti is ready to welcome back captain John Terry and Michael Essien for today's home game against Everton, a match he describes as the "most important game of the season".
But he admitted yesterday he had been disappointed at the attitude shown by his team in the absence of Terry, Essien and Frank Lampard, who is still two weeks away from a return. Chelsea managed just one point from a possible nine with Terry and Essien missing, and Ancelotti said the champions' desire had been at fault.
"Terry, Lampard and Essien are very important men in the squad. But I think that without them, we could have done better," he said. "We weren't 100 per cent focused in the games we didn't win. There wasn't a 100 per cent desire to win. You can have desire at 99 per cent but it's not enough. At this particular moment of our season, you have to have the desire to move on 100 per cent. Our desire at Newcastle was not at 100 per cent. Terry could make the difference, but I don't think that one player can do that – we have to play as a team and have the support of everyone."
Ancelotti is one of the modern breed of managers who rarely criticises his players, so these remarks during yesterday's press conference were unusual, and demonstrate the Italian's growing frustration with his squad. Chelsea's problems are all over the pitch – they have conceded soft goals, have lost their power in midfield, and after scoring so freely earlier in the season have managed just two goal in their last five Premier League games.
Their loss of form, and subsequent loss of leadership of the Premier League, makes today's game at Stamford Bridge a pivotal one. Ancelotti said: "We have to close this period with a victory. That's the target. It's not so important to be top now. We have to be there at the end of the season. We must focus on this game.
"I put on my players pressure for this game. I want to see everything we can do: character, personality, good play. It may be the most important game of the season."
Terry is fit to play despite a trapped nerve in his thigh that Ancelotti claims is cured, as long as the defender continues to undergo strengthening exercises. "It is the piriformis muscle," he said. "It's been a case of releasing that muscle. You have to improve the strength of the muscle so you have the possibility to relax it. More exercise. He's doing that to strengthen it.
"The problem has gone. Maybe he won't be 100 per cent in the next game because he's only trained for three days, but he can improve. It's not just important for him to be 100 per cent. He brings others things: he can speak across the defensive line, can instruct and lead the team, his personality."
Essien also brings greater character. Ancelotti said he has spoken with the Ghanaian about the need for greater control, a consequence of his reckless challenge against Fulham, which earnt him a three-game ban.
"He brings character, personality, like Terry. We've had problems scoring from midfield, and he can solve that. We haven't just missed his muscle; we've missed his character and personality in midfield," Ancelotti said. "Essien knows he made a mistake and I'm sure he won't repeat it again. I've spoken to him about this – he needs to have more self-control."