Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti accepted responsibility for his team's lacklustre display in a 3-1 defeat to title rivals Arsenal last night that leaves him fighting for his job.
Ancelotti's stumbling champions have now lost four of their last eight league games, and the Italian will have some tough questions to answer when he has to explain this defeat to the club's notoriously impatient owner, Roman Abramovich.
Chelsea's achievement in winning the Double for the first time in their history in May seems an awfully long time ago, and they have slipped to six points behind leaders Manchester United, who have a game in hand. They will drop outside the top four if Tottenham Hotspur beat Newcastle United this afternoon.
Abramovich stood by Ancelotti during the club's loss of form in November, when they were without both John Terry and Frank Lampard. However both players have returned from injury and were included in the side that was soundly beaten last night.
The situation is similar to the one that faced World Cup winner Luiz Felipe Scolari who was sacked in February 2008 when Chelsea had fallen to fourth place in the Premier League, seven points behind leaders Manchester United.
In contrast, Arsenal have moved to within two points of United courtesy of goals from Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott. Chelsea pulled one back through defender Branislav Ivanovic.
Asked if he felt Abramovich will be patient with him, Ancelotti said: "Obviously he won't be happy at this moment. I will take my responsibility, but this is a question you have to ask him, not me. We have to do better, obviously. It's not usual that Chelsea cannot win for six or seven games."
The Italian, who spent Christmas Day in his homeland before returning on Boxing Day, admitted he was non-plussed by Chelsea's display.
"We have to wake up. Until now we are sleeping. Maybe I have to be the first to wake up," he said. "I'm worried, obviously, because that's six or seven games we've not been able to win. I didn't see the team playing the way we want, and we had had difficulty playing our football. I'm worried, obviously.
"I didn't expect it. I was surprised by this performance. I saw very good training sessions this week, so I was surprised at this performance."
Chelsea's slide has been spectacular – five points clear at the top in late October, and now six points behind. Ancelotti admitted the title is slipping away. "We lost a lot of points and positions, but I have confidence. When you are sleeping, it's important you wake up quickly," he said.
The bad run has triggered stories of rifts in the Chelsea dressing room but Ancelotti denied splits in the camp were behind the club's loss of form. "These rumours are not true. Everyone knows the moment is difficult and we're not able to do what we're usually able to do. Everyone is close to their team-mates. We won the Double six months ago. It's impossible that everything changed, the atmosphere from the players, in that time," he said.
Ancelotti however did receive support from his counterpart Arsène Wenger, who said he could not believe that the Chelsea manager's job is under threat.
Wenger said: "I personally rate Ancelotti very highly. I still count Chelsea as one of the big contenders of the championship. I do not think they're out of it – not at all – after their defeat tonight."Reuse content