The pressure on Chelsea is growing with manager Luiz Felipe Scolari admitting yesterday that he was making changes to his training methods and preparation to try and reverse an alarming run of form which threatens to derail the club's season.
"I try to understand and I try to change some things for the future," the manager said ahead of tomorrow's vital Premier League meeting with Manchester United. "This week I have some ideas and I change some things for this month, January. Some things change in our training, in our concentration. Maybe when we go to the hotel, something like that, because I need to change some things."
The admission follows discussions Scolari has had with senior players, such as John Terry and Frank Lampard, who have, for some time, been asking for more intensity and variety in the training sessions. Two team meetings, on the last two Tuesdays, have been held which, to an extent, have also been used to clear the air, although club sources deny that they degenerated into heated arguments.
A run of just two victories in seven league matches, and last week's embarrassing FA Cup draw at home to Southend United, has added to the sense of unease, while the sale of Wayne Bridge to Manchester City for more than £11m has also caused disquiet. Bridge is a good trainer, a popular squad member and also one of the few naturally left-sided players at Chelsea.
Terry, in particular, has expressed his concern and also, not for the first time, used his captain's programme notes ahead of last week's cup tie to demand greater unity from the players. The commitment of some, such as Florent Malouda and Didier Drogba, has been questioned.
The rigidity of Scolari's tactics – he appears reluctant to play Drogba alongside Nicolas Anelka in a 4-4-2 variation, for example – and his training methods have been questioned internally but there is no sense that the club's hierarchy doubt his suitability for the job, especially as he has accepted, publically at least, that he may not be allowed to buy the attacking player he craves in the transfer window.
Scolari was candid yesterday. "I've lost many games with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge," he admitted. "Away we win. Sometimes when you play at home it's more difficult. Maybe, for me, it's more difficult at Stamford Bridge than away. I don't know why. If I knew that very well I'd change it."
It's perhaps fortunate then that Chelsea are at Old Trafford tomorrow, although Scolari added to the sense of pressure by admitting it was a contest his team could not afford to lose.
"This is a game where if you give your opponent the chance to advance by three points it's difficult to recover after," he said. "When you draw you lose points and the opponents lose points but when you lose, it's difficult. Now, in our position, it's impossible to think about a draw. We think about a win. We need [to win] because they are four points behind but they have two games [in hand] and these two games are not against us. If you lose three points against a direct opponent such as Manchester then you are in trouble."
Defeat would also have a significant effect on that suffering morale especially as Chelsea have, in recent seasons, such a strong record against United. Scolari confirmed that, Michael Essien and Malouda apart, he had a full squad to chose from with both Terry and Michael Ballack returning from suspension. The club's owner Roman Abramovich is set to miss the match, which will only serve to heighten the debate that he is losing interest in football and may be considering how best, at some point, to divest himself of the club's ownership. This theory, however, is strenuously denied by Chelsea.Reuse content