Even as a manager who served 14 years in the madhouse of Italian football, eight of them at Silvio Berlusconi's Milan, Carlo Ancelotti looked taken aback to be asked whether losing two of his first 13 matches at Chelsea – having won the other 11 – has put him under pressure.
He sought help in translation before replying: "No, the pressure does not exist in my vocabulary." It would have been cruel to remind him that an autumnal defeat by Aston Villa two years ago was the result that put the skids under Jose Mourinho, followed by successive draws at Stamford Bridge in the Champions League and against Blackburn Rovers – this Saturday's visitors after Atletico Madrid arrive on Wednesday.
There is no suggestion yet that Ancelotti is in danger of suffering the same fate as his old adversary, even if he would doubtless like Russia to come through a World Cup play-off next month, ensuring that their coach Guus Hiddink has plenty to occupy him until the summer.
In the much shorter term, Chelsea's fifth manager in those two years must earn his abundant corn on the training ground preparing for this week's two games, concentrating in particular on an alarming tendency to concede from set pieces. Three-quarters of the League goals that have landed in Chelsea's net this season have come that way – only Liverpool are more vulnerable – and the two they surrendered here would have caused ructions in any public park yesterday morning, upsetting the captain of the Dog and Duck as much as John Terry, whose understandable fury suggested he would not be nominating the unmarked James Collins for goal of the month. Richard Dunne's equalising header fell into the same category, although another committed Chelsea performer, Frank Lampard, did at least curse himself for failing to cut out the corner-kick; Ricardo Carvalho, who simply stood and watched Dunne score, offered no self-recrimination, complacently observing: "Aston Villa are a good team but, overall, I think we were much better than them."
The rare mistake by Brad Friedel that allowed Didier Drogba an early goal may have instilled much of that complacency, Chelsea underestimating Villa's new mood of vigorous endeavour and Friedel's determination to atone for his mistake. "You just get on with it," the admirable American said. "It is what it is. There have been hundreds of times, millions of times when keepers have made mistakes and the team has gone on to win matches. It is easier to regroup when you are more experienced."
Martin O'Neill may not have been as disillusioned as many Villa followers by last season's fall from grace and third place – which began when Hiddink's Chelsea beat them in February – but experience is what he has added to a thin young squad, importing Saturday's two scorers and the left-back Stephen Warnock into the back four after losing Martin Laursen's presence.
"Richard Dunne's been absolutely terrific, he's been a good player for eight or nine years," O'Neill said. "But I think Collins is a really underrated player, comfortable with the ball. The three new boys have all come in, made their debuts against Birmingham City and have continued that sort of form. They've given us a lot of strength."
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Friedel; Cuellar, Dunne, Collins, Warnock; Milner, Petrov, Sidwell, A Young; Agbonlahor, Carew (Heskey, 81). Substitutes not used: Guzan (gk), Delph, Shorey, Beye, Gardner, Reo-Coker.
Chelsea (4-1-2-1-2): Cech; Bosingwa (Ivanovic, 68) Carvalho, Terry, A Cole; Essien; Lampard, Malouda (J Cole, 84); Deco; Drogba, Anelka. Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Zhirkov, Kalou, Sturridge, Belletti.
Referee: K Friend (Leicestershire).
Booked: Aston Villa Agbonlahor, Milner; Chelsea A Cole.
Man of the match: Milner.
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