Wry Ancelotti seeks to protect fragile Chelsea confidence
Manager skips showing video of Arsenal defeat as Houllier's Villa arrive in desperate need of points
It is Carlo Ancelotti's way to show his players a video of their previous game as part of the preparation for their next, but when it came to the build-up to Wednesday's match against Bolton Wanderers he decided against a rerun of the defeat to Arsenal. "I normally do it," he said afterwards, "but when the moment is not so good you shouldn't kill their confidence."
The second part was delivered with a smile and it has to be said that Ancelotti has spent the last two months, with Chelsea's form disappearing and the ground opening beneath his feet, in good humour. The win over Bolton, his team's first in the Premier League since 10 November, did ease matters but as far as tomorrow is concerned, Chelsea have to beat Aston Villa.
As far as tomorrow's result goes, it is difficult to know which manager's need is the greatest. Gérard Houllier has won just three out of 14 Premier League games since he took over in September and the 4-0 defeat to Manchester City on Tuesday made it look as if matters were already spiralling out of control for the Villa manager whose team are one point from the relegation places.
Houllier was back on the attack yesterday claiming that he would not be selling Stewart Downing and Ashley Young in the transfer window. "We need to fight for our lives because we are going through a difficult period," he said. "There are three things: fight, fright or flight. We have to fight. Maybe in the game against Manchester City we were a bit frightened."
These are both managers who have won much in the game – and at European level too – but they go into the New Year with the nagging uncertainly that they might not see another 365 days in their current job. In fourth place, Ancelotti's team are in a less fragile position than Villa but who knows what his enigmatic Russian boss Roman Abramovich is thinking?
As for Houllier, he said yesterday that he had the backing of the Villa owner Randy Lerner to buy new players this month if that was required. For a man who has become accustomed to being among the elite with the clubs he has managed, Villa's current predicament cannot be easy for Houllier and he was typically robust yesterday when he said that he had not taken the job "just for the fun".
"I knew there would be pressure and there is more pressure and the feeling is not the same when you don't win games, but I knew that. The road to success is never a simple one. It is never smooth and easy. It is rocky at the moment for many reasons but we will get through it."
The approach of Houllier at Villa has been to tackle dissenting voices head on. He said yesterday that Richard Dunne and Stephen Ireland were not up for sale this month although all the indications have been otherwise. John Carew is not likely to be fit for another three weeks which will affect his chances of a move.
As for Ancelotti, he does not have much option but to stick with the same core to his team that was put together by Jose Mourinho. The likes of Frank Lampard, John Terry, Didier Drogba and Ashley Cole will be required to do the business again tomorrow because much of what is left of the second string at Chelsea – Yuri Zhirkov, Alex da Costa, Yossi Benayoun – are all injured.
After four defeats in eight games before the win over Bolton, a year that had delivered so much was starting to leave a bad aftertaste for Ancelotti. "We didn't finish the year well. It was good to beat Bolton but for six weeks it has been very difficult. We now hope the bad moments have finished and we have to look forward with confidence.
"I have had difficult moments every year in my career. We've had a lot of problems and injuries. We've not been able to move from this moment quickly. I am not sure we have moved on but it was a good step to beat Bolton."
Houllier conceded yesterday that the nature of the defeat to City "shocked everybody" but he is not a character who lacks for self-confidence. "When you don't get results the supporters always look at you," he said. "Players win games and managers lose games. The results have not been going our way. We have to stick together and push up.
"Mark Hughes said that practically a week ago at Fulham. They were all on him and one win away changed things. With Mick McCarthy it was probably the same thing – then he wins at Liverpool. We need that sort of thing, definitely."
Either way, one man will find himself in trouble with his own supporters come tomorrow evening and although a draw will serve Houllier it will not do much for Ancelotti. "This is the life of the coach," the Chelsea manager said. "Sometimes you are in trouble. You cannot lose confidence in your job."
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