x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Chelsea denied that winning feeling

Listen to Carlo Ancelotti and John Terry and they will tell you that the Chelsea crisis is over, that next week Manchester United will be defeated and normal champions service resumed.

Didier Drogba unleashes a shot for Chelsea's equaliser against Tottenham Hotspur last night. Adrian Dennis / AFP
Didier Drogba unleashes a shot for Chelsea's equaliser against Tottenham Hotspur last night. Adrian Dennis / AFP

Tottenham 1 // Chelsea 1

LONDON // Listen to Carlo Ancelotti and John Terry and they will tell you that the Chelsea crisis is over, that next week Manchester United will be defeated and normal champions service resumed.

On one reading, the force-majeure finish with which Didier Drogba rescued a point from White Hart Lane, even the penalty the striker failed to convert in injury time bore witness to a game Chelsea "deserved to win".

"We played well," said Ancelotti. "We started well, when we were down we didn't lose our composure. Second half was very strong. We are very close to winning and we will win the next game."

Ancelotti's captain was as adamant. "I think we're back to normal," said Terry. "In the second half we had the hunger, spirit, determination and pressed a lot better. That's what we want from a Chelsea side.When you don't see the passion that's what hurts and we'd all admit that's been lacking."

Another reading would underline what Chelsea continue to lack.

Wins have become a frighteningly precious commodity. Just six points have been banked from the last 21 as the team has slid to fourth in the division. And, for all the merits of this comeback from Roman Pavyluchenko's fine first-half strike, there were periods when it looked as though it would never arrive.

It's not simply about results, everywhere you look with Chelsea problems stare back. The squad has been hollowed out by Roman Abramovich's ill-advised transfer policy.

Ancelotti's authority has been eroded by the mid-season sacking of Ray Wilkins, his assistant, and replacement with an under-qualified former girls' team coach.

A medical department with a history of mistreatment prepared a one-month rehabilitation for Frank Lampard following an August groin operation, yet the midfielder is still only fit for the bench.

Uncertain whether he will even be employed by the club in six months time, Ancelotti has attempted to halt the bleeding. The Italian has tried discursive meetings, tried hauling them in for extra training, tried public criticism. In midweek, he put out a full-strength team for a dead Champions League rubber at Marseille in the hope of claiming a reviving victory. They lost.

Here, he elected to drop Drogba for what were described as "technical" reasons. "I wanted to use the speed of Nicolas Anleka," explained Ancelotti.

There was certainly no change of shape, Anelka simply taking over at centre forward.

Harry Redknapp was able to bring Luka Modric back from his sickbed to central midfield.

Chelsea opened with the intensity you would expect of a team in such desperate need of a result. What emerged, however, was no more than a series of half chances, Heurelho Gomes never having to truly extend himself. Tottenham scored from their first serious attempt on goal.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto's regulation ball down the left touchline seemed to pose little danger when Jermain Defoe collected it. Turning back towards his own goal, Defoe was allowed to roam freely, eventually picking out a pass to Roman Pavyluchenko at the apex of the area.

With Terry making no more than a token effort to challenge, the Russian moved off parallel to the goal before shooting low beyond Petr Cech.

On came Drogba at half time as Ancelotti attempted to fix things with a switch to a 4-4-2.

More promising for the champions were a fine brace of Gomes saves when Drogba shot from distance and Wilson Palacios back-headed Florent Malouda's questioning cross at his own goal.

When Pavyluchenko's control twice let him down at opportunities to double Tottenham's lead, Ancelotti threw on Daniel Sturridge.

Then came Drogba's moment of inspiration, making and finishing Chelsea's equaliser with a display of unadulterated power, aided by a rare error by Gomes.

First the African out-muscled Dawson to a high ball. Shouldering the ball on to himself - "a handball," said Redknapp - the subsequent shot was a cannon, clattering into Gomes body and spinning back off the goalkeeper and in.

Drogba stood proudly upright, marching slowly along the touchline in front of the visiting support. Eventually he nodded a head at his handiwork. Ancelotti held his arms out in relieved celebration then prepared Lampard for a return to action.

In injury time, Drogba flicked a ball through to Ramires who was cleaned out by Gomes.

If the penalty was clear cut, Drogba's execution was not.

Close to the goalkeeper, at a reasonable height to save, the Brazilian was its equal. Now Chelsea must prove they are still United's.

sports@thenational.ae