x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Time is running out for Ancelotti

Chelsea have won only two of their last eight league games away and Portsmouth could further dent their title hopes tonight.

Votes of confidence can prove to be nothing of the sort. At a club like Chelsea, where it helps to be bilingual in English and doublespeak, deciphering anything can be a difficult job. So what should Carlo Ancelotti make of a recent pronouncement? "Although they lost to Inter, they are a great team with great players and they know what to do in this kind of situation."

The Italian went unmentioned. Perhaps that is unsurprising, because the speaker was a former rather than a current employee. "But I'm not the Chelsea manager any more," added Avram Grant. "I have enough problems of my own." He has. Managing the first Premier League club ever to go into administration and a team where, after a nine-point deduction, a descent into the Championship is all but a mathematical certainty, is a unique situation. Yet sometimes it can seem simpler than leading Chelsea.

Headlines yesterday suggested Ancelotti has three weeks to save his job. A glance at the home dugout tonight is unlikely to be reassuring. Grant was dismissed after reaching the Champions League final, a feat that has eluded all other Chelsea managers. He, like Ancelotti, can count the cost of a slip from John Terry, albeit one of a very different kind. If he did not suggest that Ancelotti will remain at Stamford Bridge, he has reason to be cautious.

In contrast, the former AC Milan manager is remaining defiant. "First of all I think we will do well this year," he said. "In any case, my future will surely be at Chelsea next year, regardless of results. "We are going through a delicate moment between injuries and disappointment from the Champions League. But we are fighting on two fronts." But as Grant has discovered, a perverse logic can pervade at Chelsea. His reputation has been elevated more in a doomed struggle against demotion and administration than it was taking the Londoners to within one kick of conquering Europe.

The demands, both internal and external, meant the negatives were accentuated. Grant only lost five of his 54 games, but memories of those defeats - to Barnsley in the FA Cup, Tottenham in the Carling Cup final and Manchester United in the Premier League - plus the Champions League penalty shoot-out in Moscow, tend to linger a lot longer than those of the 36 wins. At Portsmouth, the opposite may apply. Perhaps liberated by the reality of relegation, his side scored two late goals to defeat Hull City on Saturday. After exerting an influence in the composition of the bottom three, now they can help determine the top three.

While Grant, angered at the points deduction, initially threatened to field weakened sides, Saturday showed the merits of excelling in the Premier League while they still can. While Portsmouth's own fate is sealed, they can affect the destiny of others. Although second place is the reward for victory, Chelsea have only won two of their last eight league games away from Stamford Bridge. A recent fragility, highlighted by Blackburn in Sunday's 1-1 draw, led Roy Keane, one with ample experience of winning titles and a penchant for outspoken opinion, to opine that Chelsea lacked the team spirit to triumph.

That, along with their resourcefulness and strength in depth, is under examination. A depleted defence may benefit from reinforcements with Petr Cech, the goalkeeper, and defender Ricardo Carvalho expected to return imminently. However, with Branislav Ivanovic ruled out for a month with a knee ligament injury, Paulo Ferreira should start at right-back. For Portsmouth, one piece of team news is telling. Aruna Dindane will not figure, because one more appearance would trigger an automatic deal to sign the on-loan striker. "Simply put, we are not in a position to pay Lens £4millon (Dh22m) for Dindane so it made sense," said Andrew Andronikou, the club's administrator.

Precious little else has made sense at Portsmouth recently, a club where Peter Storrie, the chief executive, used to receive win bonuses along with the players and where expenditure exceeded income to an alarming degree. Some depressing figures predated their recent boom and bust. Portsmouth have not beaten Chelsea for 49 years. Chelsea received one unpleasant reminder of their past last week, courtesy of Jose Mourinho. They could do without another from Grant tonight. @Email:sports@thenational.ae