Ancelotti 'just a technician' as Bowyer adds to Chelsea's woes
Birmingham City 1 Chelsea 0
Monday 22 November 2010
Like his compatriot Roberto Mancini at Manchester City, Carlo Ancelotti is experiencing the peculiar pressure that comes with managing a mega-rich club. Every defeat is interpreted as a crisis. After losing his senior aide, Ray Wilkins, and a third match in four games, Ancelotti admitted he was stuck in a "difficult moment".
Suddenly, everything seems to be conspiring against the Chelsea manager. John Terry and Frank Lampard remain injured, while Michael Essien is suspended for another game. On Saturday the Italian ran into a Birmingham team brilliantly served by a goalkeeper, Ben Foster, with a point to make after a much-criticised display for England, and a Chelsea-supporting centre-back, Roger Johnson, keen to underline his international ambitions. Not to mention Lee Bowyer, whose goal earned City's first win over Chelsea in 30 years and lifted them from the drop zone into mid-table.
And then there was the issue of Wilkins' sacking, which will not go away. The former first-team coach, whose replacement Michael Emenalo joined the bench for the first time, is taking legal action over what he alleges was his "unfair dismissal". However, the matter also raises questions about just how much autonomy or authority Ancelotti, or indeed any incumbent at Stamford Bridge, has as long as Roman Abramovich owns Chelsea.
When it was suggested to the former Milan coach that it would be hard to imagine such a decision being taken at Manchester United without Sir Alex Ferguson's consent, his answer was revealing. "It is a different position to Ferguson because he has total control of the team. I have just the technical direction, full stop, okay," he said before being ushered away.
The Wilkins episode should diminish in importance if and when the team regain their early-season majesty. Right now, though, Ancelotti appears to be struggling. Was he prepared for the flak? "Yes, I am. This is the life of the coach. This is a difficult moment but I think we are capable of moving on. It's true we didn't play well against Sunderland but here we played very well. Everyone who saw the game can say this. When the team don't win there is more responsibility on the coach, but this is normal. This is my job. I don't have a problem."
And Wilkins' departure? "It is not the reason why we lost the games. We lost them because in four games, we scored just one goal. We have to improve there, to stay more in focus, We have to continue to play like we did against Birmingham. We didn't score because we were just unlucky and we conceded from just one opportunity they created. We had 10 to 12 opportunities to score.
"But I'm not worried about the team because I think we're again able to play good football. We have to move and look forward to the next game against Newcastle."
Ancelotti argued that his makeshift back four played well yet "one mistake", when Bowyer was unchecked as he ran on to a header won too easily by Cameron Jerome, cost Chelsea dear. They then laid siege to Birmingham's goal, only to find Foster actually improving on Joe Hart's heroics in the 0-0 draw between the sides last season and Johnson in the kind of form alongside Scott Dann that prompted comparisons with his hero, Terry, at his combative best.
Alex McLeish, the City manager and once a muck-or-nettles centre-half himself, said: "I think we're an unfashionable club, and that's been a factor [in Johnson being overlooked]. But he deserves a shout of competing with other guys being touted for England. I'm not telling Fabio Capello his job. I just feel our boy deserves a mention. People extol the virtues of players like Gary Cahill, and rightly so. I'm doing the same with Roger."
Johnson, a £5m snip from Cardiff, believes he merits a chance. "He says 'What've I gotta do, gaffer?'," McLeish said in the worst London accent since Dick van Dyke went cockney in Mary Poppins. Might he have a granny who would make him eligible for the Scots? "I did ask him if he wanted to play for Scotland, and mentioned it to Craig Levein, but he told me [cue accent]: 'No chance'. He's a passionate Englishman, he wants to play for England."
The defiance of Johnson and Dann put Chelsea's central-defensive woes into sharp relief, with Terry having treatment for his sciatic nerve problem and Alex requiring knee surgery. But it is the dearth of goals which, should it persist, could cost Chelsea the League leadership, a dilemma encapsulated by Foster.
"It was unbelievable to keep a clean sheet against that pressure," the Birmingham goalkeeper said. "But you've got to put the ball in the net – and they didn't."
Scorer: Birmingham Bowyer 17
Substitutes: Birmingham Hleb (Zigic, 72). Unused Doyle (gk), Jiranek, Michel, Beausejour, Phillips, Derbyshire. Chelsea Bosingwa (Ferreira, 65), Sturridge (Ramires, 72).
Unused Turnbull (gk), Van Aanholt, Bruma, McEachran, Kakuta.
Booked: Birmingham Ridgewell, Fahey.
Man of the match Foster Match rating 8/10
Possession Birmingham 39% Chelsea 61%
Shots on target Birmingham 1 Chelsea 10
Referee M Halsey (Hertfordshire) Att 24,357
Singing the blues
* Chelsea have not endured such a poor run of League results since September 2007 – when Jose Mourinho left:
7 Nov 2010 Liverpool 2-0 Chelsea
10 Nov 2010 Chelsea 1-0 Fulham
14 Nov 2010 Chelsea 0-3 Sunderland
20 Nov 2010 Birmingham 1-0 Chelsea
2 Sept 2007 Aston Villa 2-0 Chelsea
15 Sept 2007 Chelsea 0-0 Blackburn
23 Sept 2007 Man United 2-0 Chelsea
29 Sept 2007 Chelsea 0-0 Fulham
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