Club Focus – Chelsea – Second place within reach as Blues host Birmingham

With second-placed Arsenal facing a difficult trip to North London rivals Tottenham, any slip-up by the Gunners coupled with a Chelsea win at home to Birmingham tonight would see the Blues overtake Arsene Wenger’s side. More importantly for Chelsea, the game against Carling Cup winners City begins a run of three consecutive games at Stamford Bridge as they look to consolidate third place and automatic qualification for next season’s Champions League – bypassing the early test of the qualifying round.

Currently, Carlo Ancelotti’s position as Chelsea manager remains in doubt, despite easing fears of possible failure to qualify for the Champions League at all, when the Blues ended February in fifth place. Five wins from six Premier League games have consolidated their position in the top four, but they are still to successfully integrate £50m January signing Fernando Torres into the side – the Spanish striker without a goal in 702 minutes for his new club. The imminent end to a likely trophy-less season, their first since 2008, points to changes in the dugout next term. Ancelotti’s side requires victory to cut the gap at the top to six points following Manchester United’s goalless draw at Newcastle last night, and keep alive their faint hopes of retaining the title with six games left to play.

The under-pressure Italian admitted after last week’s Champions League quarter-final exit at the hands of Manchester United that if club owner Roman Abramovich saw fit to replace him in the summer he would “not have a problem”, but insisted his players remain behind him going into what could be their final games together: “They are working with me at this moment. Maybe they will work with me in the future. Maybe they will not work with me in the future, but with another coach,” the 51-year-old said. “They are professional. This is football, sometimes the manager can change.”

Ancelotti will be without Brazilian pair Alex and Ramires for tonight’s match as both were ruled out for two further games after missing last Saturday’s 3-1 win over West Brom with hamstring injuries. However, aside from those two and Branislav Ivanovic – a doubt due to a muscle strain sustained at The Hawthorns – Ancelotti will have a fully fit squad to select from for the visit of Alex McLeish’s City; still relegation-threatened despite seven points from three games and only five points clear of the drop zone. The game offers the hosts the opportunity to avenge a 1-0 defeat suffered at St Andrews in November, as Lee Bowyer’s early goal and an inspired display by goalkeeper Ben Foster defeated the Londoners.

Away from Stamford Bridge, at the home of their Champions League conquerors, Chelsea’s youth team take a 3-2 lead to Old Trafford looking to come away victorious against Manchester United in the FA Youth Cup semi-final second leg tonight. Dermot Drummy’s talented youngsters are aiming to reach their third FA Youth Cup final in four years, with the victors to face Sheffield United in the final.

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