With Chelsea seemingly on the verge of self-destructing, the next three games appear pivotal to their season, writes Richard Jolly.
Clock is ticking for Ancelotti to repay boss's trust
Roman understands. They are two words that might provoke a range of emotions among former Chelsea managers.
Amusement, perhaps; bemusement, definitely. Carlo Ancelotti claimed the billionaire recognises the problems at Stamford Bridge, said that there is a mutual trust between owner and manager and suggested that funds will be available in January.
Perhaps this is Ancelotti the political animal speaking, the man who survived eight years under an egomaniacal and dictatorial owner, Silvio Berlusconi, at AC Milan, with reputation and sanity intact.
Certainly, the 51-year-old Italian has rarely appeared gullible. But as Ancelotti's predecessors could inform him, and indeed as he conceded a few weeks ago, Chelsea's results mean he is entering the territory where Abramovich tends to reach for the axe, not the chequebook.
At most other clubs, this would be preposterous. Chelsea were double winners barely six months ago and have the chance to reclaim the lead of the Premier League today. But dysfunctional clubs disregard the rules that apply to others.
Decorated managers have gone before and slumps, no matter how temporary, have proved sackable offences for the ruthless Russian.
The only test of Abramovich's assertions to his manager is time. Time is the commodity that money, Abramovich's greatest asset, cannot buy, one that has been denied to others.
Time is required to reverse the recent slide where Ancelotti's habitual hangdog expression has been justified by results; three goals and five points from six games is relegation form.
As Ancelotti has admitted, Tottenham Hotspur have become the favourites for today's meeting at White Hart Lane. It was an admission of disarming honesty during a downturn.
Chelsea's next three opponents - Spurs, Manchester United and Arsenal - double up as title rivals and potential assassins. It is a decisive December; not just at the summit of the division but for the manager of last season.
It was Chelsea's stellar record against the best that propelled them to the top then, with 15 points taken from a possible 18 against their fellow qualifiers for the Champions League.
Having stumbled against Sunderland and Birmingham City, Newcastle United and Everton, the rest have presented enough problems for the champions of late.
The combination of debilitating injuries and a collective dip in performance levels would have been awkward enough.
With a squad depleted by summer departures and a backroom staff reduced by the abrupt sacking of Ray Wilkins, strength in depth can seem an illusion glimpsed in victory. Chelsea resemble a side on the brink, rounding up the last men standing, regardless of recent form, and pressing them into service.
As Ancelotti has admitted, they are not playing well. The fluency and vibrancy displayed early in the season have departed, replaced by a scrappiness. Chelsea's mutation into a prolific and potent force has been followed by a swift, sudden transformation to awkward incoherence.
Problems multiply. Paulo Ferreira, an unconvincing understudy, will be charged with stopping Gareth Bale. A patched-up John Terry has to halt a Spurs attack that can acquire an unstoppable momentum. A midfield that, Michael Essien aside, is mediocre, need to impose themselves at a hostile venue.
A temperamental team are more likely to crack than their calmer manager. A high level of equanimity may be a necessity to work for Berlusconi and Abramovich. Ancelotti's serenity has aided him in positions that more high-strung managers would have quit.
January represents respite, the combination of an easier fixture list and an opening transfer window. But first, he has to negotiate an awkward three weeks before Abramovich reverts to his trigger-happy past.
Whatever the supposed understanding of the owner, his best manager since Jose Mourinho has a new-found fallibility.
Tottenham, who revel in every misfortune Chelsea suffer, have the chance not merely to overcome them, but to induce them to press the self-destruct button again.
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