Chelsea’s Champions League push may be Ancelotti’s last saving grace

The reigning Premier League Champions have 90 minutes to salvage what has been an anti-climatic season. Having carried their remarkable goal scoring form from last term into this with successive 6-0 victories in their first two games, Chelsea looked untouchable, until a miserable run before Christmas stopped them in their tracks. Although their form has improved slightly, they are now in all likelihood out of contention in the League, realistically leaving the Champions League as their only remaining chance of silverware.

To achieve this, they face the unenviable task of overturning a 1-0 deficit at Old Trafford, where Manchester United have not been beaten all season. While the Blues need to attack, United will also be confident of breaching what will likely be a stretched back-line. Although far from an impossible task, the odds are against them. Roman Abramovich, notoriously not the most patient of owners, will be looking on with more interest than usual.

The whispers that defeat may spell the end of Carlo Ancelotti’s tenure are getting louder and previous omens are not encouraging for the Italian. Under the Abramovich reign all Chelsea managers who have failed to win the league have found themselves headed through the exit door. With a failed title defence now appearing a certainty, Ancelotti’s saving grace may be the coveted Champions League trophy, the one that has painfully eluded the West London club’s grasp since their rise to prominence.

With a league and cup double in the bag in his first season, and a number of the squad edging towards the end of the careers, Ancelotti himself may argue that he achieved well with the squad he inherited as the club heads into what looks like a transitional period. Maybe as a consequence of this, the former Milan boss does not seem particularly phased by his predicament, brushing aside talk that his future hinges on tonight’s encounter: “To be involved in this game is fantastic for my job, for my career. So I’m not afraid. I’m not worried about this.” He added: “My future is already decided. I don’t have a problem about this game. It’s not important I have to speak with Roman. When I have a contract, everything is okay with him.”

Yossi Benayoun may have inadvertently dug his manager into a deeper hole by acknowledging that they were playing to keep their season alive against United but, ironically, it is the Israeli’s return from injury that Ancelotti may well be banking on to turn around his side’s fortunes. The poor form of Fernando Torres is another factor that has not reflected well on the Italian tactician and, by his admission, the two having combined previously for Liverpool may prove beneficial: “Benayoun is the player who knows Fernando best because they’ve played together and that can help him to move on from this particular moment.”

While it is well documented that Torres has not scored for Chelsea yet, Ancelotti could still be tempted to deploy him at Old Trafford thanks to his favourable history with Nemanja Vidic. Having previously been criticised for abandoning Chelsea’s successful one striker approach in order to accommodate the Spaniard, the need to attack United may mean Torres gets another chance to begin justifying his, and the manager’s, places to Abramovich.

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