The Chelsea manager, Carlo Ancelotti, made the bold claim last night that his job would still be safe even if his team were eliminated from the Champions League by Manchester United in their quarter-final second leg at Old Trafford tonight.
It was a brave statement from the Italian with Chelsea trailing 1-0 from the first leg and the prospect of a season without any trophies looming should his team fail tonight. Ancelotti claimed, "My future is already decided. I don't have a problem about this game" – because he has one more year of his contract to run after this season.
Although the consensus is that Ancelotti will not survive as manager at Chelsea beyond the summer unless he delivers the Champions League this season, the man himself was unperturbed by the continuing uncertainty around his position. "It's not important that I have to speak with Roman," he said, in reply to a question about whether he had been given assurances by the club's owner. "When I have a contract, everything is OK with him."
He added: "I think that, a lot of times, I played this kind of game with this pressure. But it's not pressure. It's excitement. To be involved in this game is fantastic for my job, for my career. So I'm not afraid. I'm not worried about this. I'm happy to have a possibility to be involved in this game, to use my ability and my skill to give to the players the skills to play at their best."
One of the key decisions facing the Chelsea manager is whether he selects his £50m striker Fernando Torres, yet to score in 10 appearances for the club. All Ancelotti would confirm yesterday was that Torres would play some part in the match but whether he starts or not, and in which formation with which combination of attacking players, the manager was not willing to discuss.
Torres trained with the rest of the Chelsea squad at Old Trafford last night and it is anticipated that Ancelotti will start with the player. "I'm not interested in a goal for Fernando. I'm interested in Chelsea winning this game," he said. "If he scores it's good for him and for Chelsea, but it's just important to win here."
Later, Ancelotti tried in vain to deflect attention from Torres' failure to score a goal for his new club, but the issue has become sufficiently uncomfortable for the club that a Chelsea official appealed to reporters to change the subject at the press conference last night.
Before then Ancelotti had claimed that there was no pressure from him on Torres to score for the club. He said: "He's trying to score a goal. Also, in the last game, he tried to score. But I want to say he doesn't have pressure from us because our aim is that he can play for the squad, to move well for the team, work for the team-mates, so this is our aim. I never ask my strikers to score a goal. No."
There are other major selection decisions for Ancelotti. He has Alex, his Brazilian centre-back, who made a substitute's appearance on Saturday, fit again and he could go back into the side alongside John Terry in defence, allowing Branislav Ivanovic to play at right-back. There is also the possibility that Yossi Benayoun could come into the starting line-up because of his compatibility with his former Liverpool team-mate Torres.
The United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, also has virtually a full complement of players from which to select, with the possible exception of the right-back Rafael da Silva, who will undergo a late fitness test this morning but is unlikely to start. Ferguson is expected to start with the same combination of Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez in attack that played at Stamford Bridge.
Ferguson said that winning the Champions League had become an "obsession" for Abramovich and that the Russian had bought Torres specifically to push Chelsea on in that competition this season. The Russian rarely attends away games but he is expected to watch from the Old Trafford directors' box tonight.
In Italy there stories linking Ancelotti with the Roma job continue to circulate and he was asked yesterday about comments from the Roma captain, Francesco Totti, that he would like Ancelotti to manage the club. For his part, the Chelsea manager denied that winning the competition was an "obsession" for his club and the negative connotations that implied.
"It's not an obsession," Ancelotti said. "It's a dream. When you're going to play a qualifier so close to the final it means in three games, we have a possibility to play a final. Not just us but the other teams involved. But this moment of the competition it is a dream to reach the final."
The United defender Rio Ferdinand said that Rooney, suspended for Saturday's win over Fulham for swearing into a Sky Sports camera at Upton Park this month, was ready for tonight's game. "He'll be pumped up," Ferdinand said. "He's a professional footballer who wants to do well. He thrives on the big occasions as we've seen in the past and he's a talented footballer. So like all the other players that are out there, he will be ready and it's under the lights on a special occasion so, hopefully, we can add to that."
Ancelotti said that Chelsea would not adapt their game to deal with Rooney. "I think that Rooney is the most dangerous player in the squad," he said. "But we don't change our shape, our mentality, our philosophy to control Rooney. We want to play our football at the best level we can."