When Roman Abramovich walked into the away dressing room at the Stade Vélodrome after Chelsea's defeat on Wednesday night and asked Carlo Ancelotti if he would mind having a word in private, the Italian might have been forgiven for asking if someone would mind passing him a blindfold first.
On this occasion, however, there was to be no managerial casualty. Instead, as Ancelotti revealed yesterday, the club's enigmatic owner had come to tell him that despite the awful run of results that Chelsea have been through, the Italian had Abramovich's full support.
At a club where the opinion of one man – and only one man – really matters, that means a lot. As the fallout from the sacking of Ray Wilkins has turned into the worst run of the post-2003 era for the club, yesterday's revelation from Ancelotti was the first evidence that Abramovich is not yet getting an itchy trigger finger about a manager whose golden touch has, of late, deserted him.
If Ancelotti's side lose tomorrow at White Hart Lane and then does the same against Manchester United and Arsenal then it could be a different story. "Our destiny passes through these games," was Ancelotti's lyrical way of summing up the significance of the three biggest games of the season so far. But for now he has room to breathe.
Yesterday, the Chelsea manager was talking in confident terms about the January transfer window and how he expects that Abramovich will fund new signings if Ancelotti deems it necessary.
That too is a departure from the uncertainty of the last few weeks and, although it could all change in the next three games, at least gives Chelsea a decent platform on which to approach tomorrow's game. "He [Abramovich] understands very well the problems: the injuries, and that we played good football but didn't win, which affected our confidence," Ancelotti said.
"When I say I have total support, it means he's very close to me at this moment. For this reason, our relationship is very good." Does he trust Abramovich to stick to his word? "Yes."
The fact that the news of the meeting with Abramovich, which took place after Wednesday's 1-0 defeat, was offered up by Ancelotti unprompted suggested that he knew better than anyone else its significance. Second-guessing Abramovich is a dangerous game – even for those who work at the club – so any fragment of information about his thinking has an impact.
In this case, it was good news for Ancelotti who was happy to share it with the rest of the world. "It's very important to have the support of the club and the players when moments aren't good," he said. "You have to have trust with each other. He [Abramovich] has been closer to us in this period compared to the other moments."
In January, he could potentially sign that much-needed cover at centre-back – potentially David Luiz of Benfica. "We spoke about the situation of the team," Ancelotti said of his conversation with Abramovich. "If I tell you that the owner is available to do something in January, it means we spoke about this." But January still looks some way off and Ancelotti must first get there with his team's title chances intact.
Safe in the knowledge he is not about to walk the same lonely path as his friend Wilkins – for now at least – Ancelotti cut a much more relaxed figure. Now he has the owner onside, all that remains to be done is to break a sequence of four defeats in eight games against a team who have lost once at home all season.
Chelsea will know, one way or another, after they play Arsenal on 27 December, if they still have the look of champions about them. If it goes wrong they could potentially be drastically far off the pace. Ancelotti put it in rather more stark terms: "When you move through moments, you either die or you improve your relationship, your character."
He agreed that his club had been in a similar situation after their Champions League elimination to Internazionale last season. "Then we could have had a bad season, or we could improve our relationship, our personality. I think after that moment we were better as a team. I hope that, after this moment [period of bad results] – obviously it will finish [at some point], and we're working to do it immediately – we will be better for the experience."
Had he been through this before in his career? "I had this moment in 2003 [with Milan]," Ancelotti said, pausing for effect. "In 2005. In 2007. In 2008. In 2003, we won the Champions League. In 2007, we won the Champions League.
"I am joking. We [Milan] didn't start very well in 2003, and we had a problem in the February when we lost [touch with] the top of the table. But we were still able to win the Champions League after that. Bad moments are bad moments in Italy. I don't want to sound arrogant, but I have experience of moments like this. I know how I have to manage my team."
He would like to have made changes to tomorrow's team but has decided against bringing Frank Lampard back into the side to face Spurs after more than three months out with injury. Lampard will return against Manchester United a week tomorrow providing he comes through a practice match arranged specifically with his fitness in mind scheduled for Thursday.
Asked whether he had changed the routine of his players, Ancelotti asked for an example. Told that Sam Allardyce once tried to get his players' minds off a slump in form by taking them toilet-seat racing, Ancelotti raised that famous left eyebrow of his and asked the man from La Gazzetta dello Sport for a full translation.
"I think it's a good question because the routine is not good for one team of work," he said. "It's good to change something. But to break totally our philosophy of play and in training? No. We are changing some drills to avoid the same old routine in training, but to break totally everything isn't the right way.
"We have changed some things in training sessions, we're doing more tactical sessions, but nothing bigger. We've not done anything else to lift morale. In Italy you stay concentrated [sic] in a hotel for four, five or six days continuously. Locked away in Italy. That happened to me in Italy a few times. But it really upset me to do this when I was a player. To be without your families and friends. So I don't want to do the same here. It didn't work. Ever."
In March, having lost to Inter and then drawn with Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea went to Fratton Park where their first goal of five came from a mistake by David James and from there the rest of the season, one defeat to Spurs aside, took care of itself. They won the League and then the FA Cup and when Ancelotti was reminded of that occasion yesterday, he acknowledged that sometimes it is the smallest things that make all the difference.
"The little details can change this [situation]," he said. "We have to search for these details. They won't arrive from heaven. We have to search for them. For this reason, we have to stay focused. You have to work on the little details. This is football."Reuse content