The history of player power at Chelsea is not a happy one, especially when you consider that it was the disquiet of key players that was integral to the toppling of the Jose Mourinho and Luiz Felipe Scolari regimes. So when it comes to the point that Chelsea managers are holding crisis meetings with their players, the signs are never good.
Carlo Ancelotti did so after Chelsea's draw at Blackburn Rovers on 21 March, which came hard on the heels of their Champions League elimination at the hands of Internazionale. With eight games to play they were third in the table, four points behind Manchester United with a game in hand and looking like a team which might just throw it all away.
Frank Lampard looked back at that moment on Sunday and identified it as the defining moment of the season. "Everybody was on our backs then and we were in a bit of a rut," he said. "That was the moment to dig in." Chelsea have dropped only three points since then, against Spurs at White Hart Lane, and their win over Liverpool on Sunday has left them just one victory from the club's fourth league title.
"I didn't think we'd lost it [after Blackburn] – but it was one of those situations where you couldn't really look ahead and see us winning it," Lampard said. "We didn't feel that confident and it was only that heart-to-heart [meeting], which had already been well documented, where players got things off their chest, which allowed us to move on together.
"A lot of credit needs to go to the manager for that. He sat down and was open himself and we all moved on. We've always had a great spirit here. But we have dug a bit deeper this year. We understood what we had to do and the reaction since then is what's put us in this position with one game to go."
Ancelotti has proved a very different character to his predecessors. He does not have Mourinho's desire to win every single argument and the problems that brings. Neither does he have Avram Grant's insecurity at not having the kind of CV that qualified him to manage one of the biggest clubs in English football. Unlike Scolari, Ancelotti has not tried to freeze out any of the biggest names at the club.
At a club where the politics are just below the surface – Frank Arnesen was among the Chelsea entourage in the front row of the Anfield directors' box on Sunday – Ancelotti has proved himself an ideal figure. He has the track record to give him the authority and confidence to manage the players but he is also the non-confrontational type, with his team and within Chelsea's hierarchy.
His team are now two victories away from a Premier League and FA Cup double, something that Mourinho himself never achieved. A likeable, relaxed type, Ancelotti's next great challenge will be trying to re-model the team that Mourinho built. First he will have to negotiate what will be a tense final game of the season against Wigan Athletic, who beat Chelsea in September.
"What's happened to us means we won't take it for granted even now," Lampard said. "Wigan have already beaten us this season, they're a dangerous team, with nothing to play for other than their pride and looking to jump a place or two. It's one of those potential moments where, if you relax and think 'we're there' after what happened this weekend, it can bite you on the bum."
Chelsea's five defeats this season – Wigan, Aston Villa, Manchester City (twice) and Tottenham – have been the kind of games they usually mop up fairly routinely. Against the three other members of the traditional "big four" they have won all six matches. A feat that Manchester United never achieved in their previous three title-winning seasons. The victory over Liverpool on Sunday showed a new kind of confidence.
"We have to believe in ourselves," Lampard said. "There's a real lot of talent in this squad, a real load of ability and you have to walk out with a bit of cockiness. That's what the best teams have always done over the years. Maybe there have been times when we went back into our shells and were not together quite as much over the past couple of seasons. But we've certainly got our house in order over the past two months.
"We've got two games to win the double – that's not bad. It will be historic, great for the club and the fans. These three years we've won FA Cups and stuff but it has been frustrating to see Manchester United dominating and that's why there's a real determination this year."Reuse content