When reporters arriving for Claudio Ranieri's press conference at Chelsea's west London base were handed a sheet of statistics yesterday lunchtime, Benjamin Disraeli's quotation went though a few minds: "there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics'. More appropriate, in this case, might be Andrew Lang's: "He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts - for support rather than illumination."
Ranieri was at pains to point out Chelsea's performance so far this season - 42 points from 20 matches - was the club's best in the top flight for decades. Unfortunately Manchester United and Arsenal are doing even better, and they were not given £111m to spend by a Russian benefactor in pre-season.
That investment looked like being richly rewarded when Chelsea led the table at the beginning of December but dropping 11 points from the subsequent six matches has cast Chelsea adrift. They have also gone out of the Carling Cup and almost tumbled out of the FA Cup. Roman Abramovich is not, however, disgruntled, said Ranieri.
"I think Mr Abramovich is satisfied although he is not happy with what happened in the last month - just like me, the players and the fans," said the Chelsea manager. "I want to win every game but what I must do this season is build a team. Mr Abramovich expects me to do that - not deliver the title or a Champions' League place but to progress. "You have bad moments in football, as in life, and that's when you must show your character, strength and philosophy. We only had 38 points this time last year so, although we've had a bad month, we are making progress."
Ranieri was less effusive when asked what had been discussed in his 40-minute meeting with Abramovich after Wednesday's defeat to Liverpool. "Nothing," he said. "He wanted to see the atmosphere, how everyone was."
Abramovich is certainly keen. Not only has he seen every match since buying the club he is often at the Harlington training ground and was there on Thursday. He stared morosely out of the window as the players trained in the rain, then had lunch with several of them, queueing up for his food, and putting his tray away, like the lowliest apprentice.
Whether the billionaire's humility is matched by his patience is yet to be seen. In many ways Ranieri is a victim of success as the club started better than could be reasonably expected winning eight and drawing one of their first nine matches. The current run must, though, be arrested if only to lessen the speculation about Ranieri's position. Tomorrow Chelsea are at Leicester, where Manchester United won handsomely and Arsenal were held to a draw. They expect to win.
"I think you will see a big performance on Sunday," Ranieri said. "I have seen lots of good things in training yesterday and today."
Ranieri will be without Hernan Crespo, Damien Duff, Juan Sebastian Veron and Emmanuel Petit, more than £50m of signings, but still has a formidable squad to choose from. Leicester also signed around a dozen players pre-season, but for less than £1m in total. Manager Micky Adams's best piece of business, though, has been persuading Muzzy Izzet, their former Chelsea midfielder, to remain with the club at least until the summer and possibly beyond.
The 29-year-old Turkey international was a target for Aston Villa and Blackburn during the transfer window but he said: "I've had a chat with Micky Adams and there has been some interest in me. But I feel I've come this far with Leicester and I owe it to the club and myself to keep us in the Premiership."
Izzet, whose current deal runs out in June, added: "I am a loyal person and I've had eight years here, and enjoyed a lot of success. I want to make sure we don't get relegated."Reuse content