Carlo Ancelotti flies to Copenhagen this morning with his Chelsea squad in the knowledge that defeat in Denmark could convince the club's owner, Roman Abramovich, to change his manager before the end of the season.
The Chelsea hierarchy had intended to keep the Italian coach in place until the end of the season, but after Saturday's FA Cup fourth-round elimination by Everton there is concern at whether Ancelotti (below) is capable of bringing his team out of their slump. They will not be encouraged by the Chelsea manager's disclosure that he believes only two of his squad – John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic – are playing at their best.
Chelsea take on FC Copenhagen tomorrow in the first leg of their Champions League first knockout round tie with their season disintegrating. Out of the FA Cup and 12 points behind Premier League leaders Manchester United, they are currently outside the top four qualifying places for next season's Champions League. Winning the competition is their only viable chance of a trophy this season.
There are doubts as to whether Mark Hughes, the Fulham manager whose name has been linked with the Chelsea job over the weekend, is really a leading candidate in Abramovich's mind. However, Hughes is one of many contingency plans if the club feel that Ancelotti has to go before the summer.
Guus Hiddink, who came to Chelsea's rescue two years ago when Luiz Felipe Scolari was sacked, is tied into his contract at the Turkish Football Federation as manager of their national team. There are few options for Abramovich to make a change, although he has not run shy of difficult decisions in the past. After losing on penalties on Saturday, Ancelotti was asked whether any player other than Petr Cech was at his best. "At this moment? Ivanovic, who is playing consistently and Terry. A couple are not at this moment playing with 100 per cent fitness."
Asked whether he had considered quitting, Ancelotti said: "'No. I am not here to consider my position, it is the owner that has to consider my position. I just have to work, to try my best." He added: "The performance was good, we worked hard for 90 minutes, we didn't play so well, it was not fantastic football. We created maybe 10 chances though only scored one goal. But the team was balanced on the pitch, the team was compact.
'To win the Champions League will not be easy, but Champions League brings great motivation for every one of us. We didn't do well in the Premier League, we are out of the FA Cup."
Chelsea will play Manchester United in the Premier League a week on Wednesday. Four days after the United game they face Liverpool at Anfield.
The priority now must be closing the gap on Spurs in fourth place to ensure that the club are at least in contention for a competition they have qualified for since 2003.
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