Carlo Ancelotti plays down importance of Manchester United clash

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The Independent Online

Carlo Ancelotti today insisted Chelsea's Barclays Premier League title challenge would not be killed off by a defeat to Manchester United this weekend.

Sunday's crunch clash at Stamford Bridge has been billed in some quarters as decisive for the Blues' hopes of retaining their title, with their recent miserable run seeing them drop three points behind United having played a game more.

Under-pressure manager Ancelotti is well aware a loss could eventually see that gap soar to nine points, but was adamant such a deficit could be recovered in the most unpredictable title race for years.

"A lot of teams are involved at the top of the table, maybe five teams," said Ancelotti, who yesterday reaffirmed his commitment to see out his contract despite reports suggesting he had become disillusioned at the club.

"For this reason, there are a lot of important games in the season and it's too early now to say that it could be a decisive game."

However, the Italian did acknowledge the match could be crucial for his side's state of mind following a five-game winless streak in the league, their worst for more than a decade.

"It's an important game also for your confidence," said Ancelotti, whose side did the double over United last season on their way to winning the title by a single point.

"We beat Man United last year. It was good for the mentality, for the character, for the personality of the team."

Chelsea's hopes will be boosted by the return of star midfielder Frank Lampard, who Ancelotti confirmed would start on Sunday.

England international Lampard came through the final 12 minutes of last weekend's 1-1 draw at Tottenham and a practice match yesterday following three and a half months on the sidelines.

"This team needs Lampard's ability to score from midfield, it needs his experience," Ancelotti said.

"It's very good news for us and he can help in the next game because he is fresh and he has a strong desire to come back to play."

Despite his lack of match action, Ancelotti is confident Lampard is no more at risk of suffering another injury than any other player on Sunday.

"Obviously, we are not sure 100% because when a player goes onto the pitch, maybe he can have an injury," he said. "But I think that we did everything to maintain Frank's health as much as possible."

Sunday's 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane was an improvement on Chelsea's recent performances and Ancelotti revealed confidence levels had returned to normal as a result.

But he admitted United - who have made a club record 16-game unbeaten start to a league season - would be even more buoyant.

"They arrive at this game better than us, with more confidence," he said. "But I think that to play against Man United can be fantastic motivation for us.

"We have to use this game to move on from a difficult moment. I think that difficult moment is finished.

"There was a different atmosphere in the training ground this week and I hope, in the game, we are able to do the best."

Today also saw Chelsea handed the easiest possible Champions League draw when they were paired with FC Copenhagen in the last 16.

Ray Wilkins, whose shock sacking as assistant manager coincided with the Blues' current run, revealed the club are hell bent on finally winning European football's premier club competition this season.

Ancelotti, who had Wilkins as his right-hand man during last term's historic double success said: "When you win the Premier League and when you win the FA Cup, the next step is to try to win a European competition.

"I think last year we didn't do well in that competition. This year, we want to do better."

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