Ancelotti takes his side to Portsmouth tonight seeking a swift return to winning ways, having followed the hugely demoralising Champions League exit to Inter Milan with a limp draw at Blackburn that saw Chelsea slip out of the top two for the first time since August. Suddenly a trip to Fratton Park that seemed sure to yield three points looks altogether trickier.
Momentum has fallen of a cliff just as the season reaches its most decisive stage. Chelsea were title favourites before dropping 10 of the last 21 points; even victory this evening in their game in hand will not be enough to hoist them back to the division’s summit. A draw would not even put them back in front of Arsenal and into second.
If his team’s confidence has been shaken by recent results, Ancelotti’s seems intact, with the Italian yesterday batting away suggestions he could be the fifth Blues manager to be sacked in six years. “First of all I believe that we will do well this year,” he said. “However, my future will definitely be at Chelsea next year, independent of results.”
Abramovich may be reluctant to ditch Ancelotti after his first season, having identified the former AC Milan coach himself and lavished him with a three-year contract thought to be worth £6.5m a year. The former Italy midfielder has also largely succeeded in delivering the entertaining style the Russian craves.
Yet survival at Stamford Bridge is not earned by goals scored. Ancelotti’s win percentage may be better than those of Luiz Felipe Scolari and Claudio Ranieri, but Abramovich’s patience with either did not extend beyond a year. Avram Grant won a greater proportion of games but was axed for failing to land a trophy, while Jose Mourinho also had a better ratio than Ancelotti and won silverware, but was moved on for other reasons. The only man not sacked, Guus Hiddink, won 73 per cent of games before walking away.
Ancelotti says 21 points from the last eight games will suffice. “I like statistics and I think that, in the past, with 86 points every team has won the title,” he said. “I want to believe we can win the championship.”