The Blues have had a mixed week after a poor display at Wigan on Saturday and a performance which can only be described as unconvincing against Cypriot side Apoel Nicosia in midweek. The Londoners squandered several chances, most notably from their wider outlets of Salomon Kalou and Florent Malouda. Nicolas Anelka responded to Didier Drogba’s absence, through suspension, with yet another Champions League goal. One of which that was taken with the highest level of goal-scoring instinct. The Frenchmen swept the ball high into the far top corner of Dionisis Chiotis’ net after neat work on the right-hand side by Juliano Belletti. Chelsea showed some intricate passing in the midfield area but little of which that effectively threatened the Cypriot back line. The Chelsea coach insists Apoel Nicosia were deserving of at least a point in Cyprus, the league champions created several chances and tested Petr Cech on a number of occasions. A nervy finale saw Chelsea scamper away unhurt although their confidence may have taken a few pegs back this past week. Nonetheless Ancelotti’s side remain top of group D, with two wins from two and their next Champions League tie will pit them against Spanish side Atletico Madrid, who slumped to a two goal defeat at the hands of FC Porto Wednesday night.
The Chelsea hopeful and Ancelotti in particular are wary of slipping into the circumstances Luiz Felipe Scolari found himself last season. The Portuguese manager started the season with exuberant performances, Deco the maestro at the heart of the intelligent displays – however after a home defeat to Liverpool the Blues struggled to regain their early dominance. The game against the Latics would have jolted memories reminiscent of Scolari’s fall to the unceremonious success policy at the Bridge as far as a managerial position is concerned. Ancelotti has faced flak before in his reign as Milan boss, often criticised for his unwillingness to opt against his favoured formations. The manager has always claimed he is bigger than any player however, and a post-match interview with Drogba, following their Premier League defeat, may have provided food for thought. The extravagant character described the performance as the worst he had been part of since joining the English contenders in 2004. A statement possibly aided by emotion, nonetheless similar disrespect was shown under Scolari’s reign as the ‘big’ players became critical of his tactical approach. ‘Carletto’, alternatively to his failed predecessor has success at the highest level both as a player and manager and has therefore been there and dealt with so called ‘big’ players. The big Italian was unable to withhold his home-grown flair in the dressing room slating the squad in his fluent language allowing him to convey his first half dissatisfaction coherently at the weekend.
Joe Cole made a substitute appearance after the flight to Cyprus and may be likely to feature in the title-contending match against their Merseyside rivals Liverpool this Sunday. The technical wizard has a knack for hitting the target in crucial games, particularly against the red of Liverpool. The Blues boss will, however, necessitate Cole in the future months as the calendar builds up and the attacking Africans of Kalou and Drogba depart for the international stage. Therefore it will be important for Ancelotti to nurse Cole into the first team after a lengthy lay-off and a cruciate ligament injury, that may have seen the end of many professionals, still tightening its ends. Ancelotti will be granted the opportunity to recall Drogba and Jose Bosingwa after the pair were banned for the midweek European fixture. Ashley Cole seems to have shrugged off a knock suffered last weekend and will face a former Blue who has mirrored Ashley Cole’s attacking and goal-scoring tendencies from a wing-back position this week, in Glen Johnson.
Liverpool as discussed in a previous Club Focus, have the ability within the team to score from all positions – the midfield of Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun have all been amongst the goals this year to assist the rising total of Fernando Torres. Therefore the Chelsea side will have a number of threats to contend with – although their previous, tight approach to these big games may prove triumphant should they uncharacteristically not concede in the early stages. A real test for Ancelotti, then, as Chelsea manager but will the big Italian opt to defer from his previous tactics? He could try neutralising the threat of the Liverpool midfield by fielding both Essien and Jon Obi Mikel as an effective defensive counter or even consider pulling Lampard back to a deeper role allowing him to influence the play.