Scolari: 'I have the players' backing'

Chelsea coach Luiz Felipe Scolari insists he has the backing of his players ahead of what he is viewing as their biggest game of the season - against Southend in the FA Cup tomorrow.

The third-round replay against the League One side should be a formality for the multi-million pound Chelsea stars but the Blues are in the midst of their biggest crisis since the departure of Jose Mourinho 16 months ago.

A glut of defensive howlers in their last five games has undermined Chelsea's title aspirations and they go to Roots Hall on the back of a 3-0 drubbing by rivals Manchester United amid allegations the squad is either too old, in disarray or simply uninterested.

But Scolari, who labelled tomorrow's crucial cup tie as the "game of the year" for both clubs, is adamant he has the continued support of his squad.

"I think I have the squad behind me," declared a robust Scolari. "We are all in the same boat. If Chelsea lose a game it is not only Scolari, it is the Chelsea team.

"There is not a problem with the spirit. It is a problem of mistakes not spirit.

"It is the game of the year for Southend and it is the same for us. We need to think the same as them.

"But if our spirit is not the same as Southend's, it will be difficult to win. If we have the same spirit and are thinking about the FA Cup, we have more chance than them. We have very good players who are technically better, but we need to prove it on the pitch."

One of the repercussions of their United mauling on Sunday has been Scolari's decision to ditch man-to-man marking and return to a zonal system.

It is not a question of his squad being too old, he says, it is all about stamping out basic errors.

"What has happened is a lesson for us," said Scolari. "It is a problem because we give chances for all teams to score goals from set plays.

"What has happened in the last three or four games has not been good.

"We have done well in 25 games and not well in five. I need to change something. I have changed the system to zonal and not man-to-man.

"The responsibility now is for the group and not one man. But if we talk about the mistakes all the time, maybe we make more mistakes.

"Mentally it is a problem. We lost many points from set-plays and mistakes. Now is the time to talk with the players about what is happening.

"All the players know what I want from set plays. Sometimes mistakes happen. But my team, in the last four games, we have conceded five goals. It is more my mistake than the players' because it is my system.

"I tried to do zonal marking but changed it back to man-to-man sometimes, now we change the system again.

"I am responsible for us conceding the last two goals against United because I tried to change the result in the second half. I opened the midfield. I was wrong but this is my style."

Scolari's defensive problems are not his only concern however. Nicolas Anelka, often described as the 'incredible sulk' during his career, is understood to have voiced his latest displeasure at being left out of the starting line-up since Boxing Day.

Anelka smashed 16 goals this season during Didier Drogba's enforced absence through injury, but he has been out in the cold since the Ivorian's return.

The France striker, who last started for Chelsea in the win over West Brom, was alleged to have rowed with Scolari after being asked to play on the left flank - a position he hated under previous manager Avram Grant.

But Scolari rejected the accusations of a bust-up with his top scorer and insisted it was his job as coach to choose the players for the job, irrespective of reputations or egos.

"There has been no row with me," said Scolari. "It is my choice sometimes - this or that player.

"I have 24 good players but only two centre-forwards. One is playing and not the other.

"Everybody thinks it is easy to play two strikers because they are good. But I try to prove to the people and for me and Chelsea, that is difficult.

"When one player is outside, as was Didier Drogba, he needs to play two, three or four games, and in that time I need to look at what's happened. Afterwards I have to decide. It is my option."

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