The Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti conceded yesterday that if his team are to have any chance of winning the Premier League title in May after yesterday's 3-3 draw with Aston Villa then they must beat leaders Manchester United when they visit Stamford Bridge on 1 March.
Ancelotti's team are now six points behind United but that will increase to nine if Sir Alex Ferguson's team win their game in hand.
It looked as if Chelsea had won the game yesterday when John Terry scored to make it 3-2 in the 90th minute but Ciaran Clark got an injury-time equaliser that meant Villa took a deserved point from an absorbing game.
The referee Lee Mason booked seven Villa players in the game – once they passed the threshold of six they earned an automatic £25,000 fine from the Football Association – but it was Chelsea's players who looked the most irate as they left the pitch. Strong words were exchanged between Terry and Didier Drogba although Ancelotti said there was no problem between the pair.
Ancelotti said his team, in fifth place and one point behind Tottenham, could still win the title. "First they [United] have to win [their game in hand]," he said. "Second, I think that the gap is not [too large] at the moment. Everything is open.
"We have to beat them here and that will say something about the title. We obviously need to beat them here. The title race is not over because we are improving and I think we can do something about it."
The Chelsea manager knows that his club will have to sign a centre-half this month in order to cover themselves, with Alex da Costa still injured. He was forced to give the 19-year-old Dutch defender Jeffrey Bruma his first league start yesterday and, although the teenager performed well, he was out-jumped by Emile Heskey for Villa's second goal.
"Defensively we obviously lost something," Ancelotti said. "I just want to say that Bruma played very well but without Alex and [Branislav] Ivanovic we lost some energy on the high balls. We conceded the second goal for this reason. The third goal [from Clark] was different because we needed to pay more attention in the box.
"I think we have to look at the condition of Alex when he comes back. This week he comes back from Brazil, we have to look [at him]. I don't like to speak here as to which players we need. But we need some players."
The defender Richard Dunne was recalled to the team by Houllier for the first time since the defeat to Liverpool on 6 December and responded with a solid performance.
Houllier has been in a battle to impose his methods upon the squad and there was no Stephen Ireland in the squad again yesterday.
Houllier said: "It was a game where we got our reward in the end. The fact that we managed to equalise was because we really wanted to win this game. We showed character, we showed bravery, we didn't bottle out.
"At 2-1 we knew Chelsea would throw everything at us to equalise and they did. At times probably Brad [Friedel] kept it at the same scoreline.
"I would have been very disappointed if we hadn't got anything from this game, particularly for the players because they did enough to get at least a draw. But at 2-2 and then 3-2 I have to praise the players for their character and reaction.
"I think this can be a turning point. So many points we lost have been to goals we have conceded at the end. This time we scored a goal to get a point. I remember at Fulham [in November] for instance and a couple of other games when we could have got a point. I think altogether we have dropped 12 points from being in a winning position."
There was also praise for Heskey, who put in another dominant performance.
"When Emile is in form there are not many defenders who can cope with him. We deserved at least a draw. For about 20 minutes they pushed us but before that we created more open chances than they did."Reuse content