Chelsea torn between devoting resources to the Champions League or fourth place

Chelsea’s key priority now this season probably isn’t their defence of the Premier League title. However, few could blame them. Carlo Ancelotti’s men find themselves twelve points behind frontrunners Manchester United with matches disappearing thick and fast as they prepare to do battle with Manchester City at Stamford Bridge this afternoon. Before the Blues even contemplate plugging that gap they need to win against the Eastlands club to go a point ahead of their opponents into third place.

Ancelotti’s team are all too aware a win is what’s required to firm up a Champions League qualifying position for next season, but with a mouth watering European quarter-final tie to come at the start of April against the Red Devils, it is difficult to not look too far ahead. After all, this could be the icebreaker for Ancelotti’s Chelsea future. Though, not just for the Italian, but also for Chelsea’s current generation of stars whose legs have looked heavier and heavier each year in their so far unsuccessful pursuit of European football’s greatest trophy.

The temptation to stutter rather than sprint to the Premier League finish would be understandable. Nonetheless Chelsea’s squad is filled with seasoned champions, who would not want to show they were a spent force. Indeed, the Blues impressive home win against Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United team two weeks reminded many of Chelsea’s battling qualities. Certainly against Manchester City, Chelsea will need to reinstate these attributes and more in what is their last realistic opportunity to stay in touching distance with the title they fought extremely hard to wrestle back last campaign.

Roberto Mancini’s men have a habit of proving themselves a nuisance when they come face-to-face with London rivals. City have won eight out of eight on the road in the capital, and this might prove their best omen particularly with Chelsea not being the force of old on home soil. The Blues record against City in the Premier League tells another story, however, with the latter only ever recording two wins in 24 previous meetings. Whether or not Chelsea do taste victory today, harboring hopes of a late title push are ambitious at best.

Despite their remarkable start to the season, two of Chelsea’s key weapons faded allowing Manchester United, and to a certain extent Arsenal to take full advantage. The out of sort’s behavior of Dider Drogba and a rare succession of injuries to Frank Lampard saw Chelsea’s fortunes turn sour in late 2010.

As the Premier League’s nouveau riche go head-to-head, Chelsea’s take on proceedings may well have been different earlier on in the season. Ancelotti’s men lack the youthfulness of old, but their experience to handle the big occasions and boardroom pressure from Roman Abramovich will see them use their heads in the end of season run-in.

A top four finish is now the minimum requirement, but a Champions League run is needs must. The signing of Fernando Torres aside, there are doubts over whether Abramovich is prepared to replenish an ageing squad. However, the Russian’s European dream still seems to be burning and is what he craves above all else, as if Ancellotti needed reminding.

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