x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Fourth place becoming the goal for Chelsea

Ancelotti surprisingly agreed with suggestions that Chelsea¿s mission is now not to win the title, but to make sure they maintain Champions League status next season.

Misfiring Chelsea have only picked up 10 points from their last 10 games.
Misfiring Chelsea have only picked up 10 points from their last 10 games.

Carlo Ancelotti's pragmatic appraisal of Chelsea's Premier League prospects is hardly the way to inspire to the full support of owner Roman Abramovich.

Ahead of tonight's match at Wolves, Ancelotti surprisingly agreed with suggestions that Chelsea's mission is now not to win the title, but to make sure they finish in the top four and maintain Champions League status next season.

The only way Abramovich could live with that in reality is if they go on to win this season's Champions League in May at Wembley - the competition the Russian owner covets most.

That is still possible and given his successful European CV with AC Milan there is no doubt Ancelotti is a coach who could turn form on its head in the different environment of European football.

But if Chelsea show no sign of lifting themselves it is still entirely possible that the impatient Abramovich may feel compelled to seek a new manager before the end of the season.

Having won their first five games of the season, scoring 21 goals in the process, it is hard to believe the scenario of Ancelotti's job being on the line is now very real.

The almost surreal situation is why despite his denials Ancelotti has taken the counsel of the League Manager's Association to see just where he stands given that the stability of the club's season was rocked two months ago when behind his back trusted assistant Ray Wilkins was sacked.

Since then Ancelotti has increasingly appeared like a man standing alone.

A couple of months ago it would have seemed inconceivable that an away match at relegation threatened Wolves would become a must win game. But after falling from first to fifth in the Premier League table that is the scenario. It was probably unwise for Ancelotti's to admit the reality of the team's state, but yesterday he did.

"To stay in the first places of the table is important for the future. We have to think now we can win the title again, but the most important thing is to stay in the places to be in the Champions League," he said. "I am not worried. We have the skill and the ability to stay in the top four without a problem."

Without a problem? The problem is that with such a statement shows how far Chelsea's goals have fallen when fourth will suddenly suffice for a side that were champions last year.

Asked about the fierce words exchanged between Didier Drogba and John Terry after the 3-3 draw against Aston Villa Ancelotti claimed: "It was not an argument."

It was.

Ancelotti also insisted the celebrations surrounding Terry's goal, which saw the manager leaping up and down on the touchline, did not distract the team, despite the fact they immediately surrendered their newly won 3-2 lead.

But it did.

And when Ancelotti started to talk about how "bad luck" rather than bad play had been the main factor in his side's decline it illustrated that his back is against the wall.

Abramovich is believed to be loathe to be as trigger happy as he has been in the past, especially given the argument that less pressure on winning the title could actually enhance their Champions League chances.

Then again if Ancelotti survives the current crisis he may well have to lead Chelsea to Champions League glory to make sure they are in it again -and he remains in a job at Stamford Bridge.

11.45pm, Abu Dhabi Sports



Aston Villa v Sunderland

Record signing Asamoah Gyan is a doubt for Sunderland’s trip to Aston Villa tonight. The Ghanaian international striker shrugged off a hamstring problem to score as a substitute in Saturday’s 3-0 win over Blackburn Rovers, but is suffering from the after-effects of his exertions and a toe injury. Gerard Houllier, the Aston Villa manager, has no fresh injury concerns following his struggling side’s impressive performance in Sunday’s 3-3 draw at Chelsea.

11.45pm, Abu Dhabi Sports

Bolton Wanderers v Wigan Athletic

Wigan will again be without the suspended Charles N’Zogbia against Bolton after his sending off against Arsenal. Antolin Alcaraz looks likely to retain his place at the back after showing no ill-effects from a previous thigh injury when playing 90 minutes against Newcastle on Sunday. New signing Adrian Lopez, the former Spain Under 21 international, is likely to be on the bench. Bolton have defender Bolton have Paul Robinson back after suspension.

Midnight, Abu Dhabi Sports

Newcastle United v West Ham United

Alan Pardew, the new Newcastle manager, will have to go back to the drawing board in the search for a No 2 with Bradford City joint-chairman Mark Lawn having confirmed manager Peter Taylor has decided to stay with the club. Newcastle will once again be without injured striker Andy Carroll tonight, with Shola Ameobi set to stand in. West Ham will check on the fitness Lars Jacobsen and Valon Behrami. Midfielder Mark Noble is in line to start after a hip injury.

11.45pm, Abu Dhabi Sports