Club focus – Chelsea – Change on the cards at Stamford Bridge as Ancelotti reign nears its end

As crazy as it seems just eleven months after leading Chelsea to the first League and FA Cup double in their 106 year history, Carlo Ancelotti’s reign as manager seems set to end abruptly at the culmination of a disappointing season. Tuesday’s Champions League elimination at Old Trafford crushed the Blues’ European hopes again and given the itchy trigger finger displayed by Russian billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich, in the wake of past failures; it is little surprise that the rumour mills are rife with stories of Ancelotti’s likely sacking from Stamford Bridge. An imminent relinquishing of their Premier League crown, currently 11 points off the summit with just seven games remaining, coupled with early exits in the FA Cup and Carling Cup and an aging squad seemingly in disarray all point to the probability of a new face in the Chelsea hot seat next season.

The names of many world-class managers have been linked as potential replacements for the 51-year-old Italian, who had seemingly been held in such high esteem by his lucrative employer given the pursuit that ensued to secure his move from AC Milan two years ago, but he now appears likely to pay the price for failing to bring the Champions League to West London for the first time. Claudio Ranieri, Jose Mourinho, Avram Grant, Luis Felipe Scolari, and Guus Hiddink have all tried and failed to deliver the prize most craved by Chelsea fans, and all, to some extent, exited the club on the back of such letdowns.

Marco Van Basten, Marcello Lippi, and Frank Rijkaard appear on the potential hit-list for the seventh Chelsea manager in eight years since Abramovich bought in the club in 2003, but Blues fans could see a familiar face in the dugout if Hiddink or Mourinho return to Stamford Bridge. Ideally, the new man should follow steps taken by Ancelotti by continuing to bring through youth players into the first team, starting with the talented Josh McEachran and Daniel Sturridge, who has shown his potential in front of goal on loan at Bolton.

The seemingly doomed Italian has paid the price this season for an overhaul last summer that left his squad just too thin, with only Yossi Benayoun and Brazilian Ramires arriving to replace five players who had departed. Experience of the likes of Michael Ballack, Joe Cole, and Ricardo Carvalho, seen surplus to requirement at the end of last season, has been sorely missed as long-term injuries to key players Frank Lampard and Alex, mixed with a loss of form displayed by midfielders Michael Essien and Florent Malouda and a prolonged struggle in front of goal by forwards Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba, saw the Blues in mid-season freefall from which they are yet to convincingly recover.

Decisions need to be made over the futures of the aforementioned front pair, given January’s £50m arrival of misfiring Fernando Torres and doubts over his ability to work with Drogba in particular will need to be solved, as well as using the summer transfer window to strengthen a squad which still requires additional depth, despite the impressive start to life in London of David Luiz. Whoever replaces the likely departing Ancelotti will need to work quickly to restore the club to the top of the ever-competitive Premier League and progress further in the Champions League so craved by Abramovich.

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