Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti yesterday admitted his position at the club is "in trouble" after a run of three defeats in four Premier League games.
Ancelotti, who led Chelsea to the Double in his first season in charge, attempted to quell speculation regarding his future by insisting he would not be resigning. However, he accepted that results in the past three weeks mean his job is under pressure, despite his achievements of last season.
Ancelotti has told friends in Italy that he is not a quitter, and he will not be walking out of his contract at Chelsea, which still has 18 months to run, over the club's surprising decision to sack his assistant Ray Wilkins and replace him with the relatively unknown scout Michael Emenalo.
Ancelotti's hand may be forced, however, as Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea owner, is not known for his patience. Chelsea, who face MSK Zilina tonight at home in the Champions League, have lost their last two Premier League games, 3-0 to Sunderland and 1-0 to Birmingham. Ancelotti said he was not allowing speculation concerning his future to distract him from the task of improving results.
"I think that when the team don't reach the right results, obviously the coach is under pressure. Obviously I am under pressure because I'd like Chelsea to win every game, but just this," he said. "Obviously I understand very well because I had a lot of occasions like this in my career – the coach is in trouble when the team doesn't produce results, but this is my life. I like my life. I'm not disappointed about this.
"I'm disappointed because Chelsea have lost three in four games, and this is not good – for me, the players, the club, for my job. We want to do better."
Ancelotti produced a robust and entertaining performance yesterday, after a weekend of mounting speculation that he was considering his future at the club in the light of the change of coaches.
The Italian said yesterday there had been contact with the League Managers Association on Sunday evening, but said that the organisation had phoned him, and not vice versa.
He began his press conference at Chelsea's training ground in Cobham, Surrey, yesterday by joking: "Are you surprised to see me?" before stating his commitment to the club.
"These rumours are totally untrue," he said. "I have my contract until 2012, here, in this club. I've said a lot of times that I'd like to stay here. I love not just this club, but these players. I have a lot of confidence in these players, in this squad, so there's no reason to change my ideas."
The situation is far from stable, however. Ancelotti's power with the Stamford Bridge hierarchy has been undermined with the sacking of Wilkins on 11 November, and last week's decision to appoint Emenalo as his replacement. Wilkins was a very popular figure at the club, with everyone except owner Abramovich, and the timing and handling of his dismissal has caused huge disruption in the middle of a busy period of the season.
Ancelotti, who appeared to have toned down his language from the weekend, said he accepted what had happened, and was not disputing Abramovich's decision. "I'm sad because the team doesn't win. I maintain the same relationship with Ray, even if we can't work together," he said. "The club decided to change and I have to stay focused on my job with another assistant. This is not a problem. That's not the reason why the team are losing."
The manager maintained that his relationship with the squad was still as strong as it was in last year's Double-winning campaign. "We had a fantastic experience last year. We're very close," he said. "We have total support from them. When things aren't good, this is normal. I will support them in everything because that's the way to move on quickly. My relationship with them is fantastic."
In his desire to emphasise the positives at Chelsea, Ancelotti pointed to the Premier League table, which they top on goal difference from Manchester United, and Group F in the Champions League, in which they enjoy a six-point lead over Spartak Moscow.
"At this moment, everything seems wrong and we are still at the top of the table and have won all four games in the Champions League," he said. "Obviously we have to control this situation because it's not good for us. We are at a difficult moment, but we should also recognise that we've done something well."
Chelsea should overcome MSK Zilina with ease tonight, even with a team of youngsters and reserves, but a far stiffer test will come at Newcastle United on Sunday.