CHELSEA manager Carlo Ancelotti has vowed not to let his players’ turbulent private lives upset the dressing room ahead of tonight’s clash with Inter Milan.
Former Blues boss Jose Mourinho’s feverishly-anticipated first match against his old club threatens to be overshadowed by a series of lurid off-field headlines.
First Chelsea skipper John Terry suffered the public indignity of being stripped of the England captaincy following allegations of infidelity. Then yesterday, on the eve of the last 16 tie’s first leg in Milan, it emerged that full-back Ashley Cole is to split from his wife Cheryl after claims that he cheated on the pop star.
But Ancelotti said: “I think we are focused and will be on this important game. We will not change our motivation for this game, whatever happens outside our dressing room.”
Cole’s broken ankle and Yuri Zhirkov’s calf injury mean Ancelotti is without both of his preferred left-backs against the Italian champions. The former AC Milan coach is considering deploying the versatile Juliano Belletti in their stead, although Paulo Ferreira is another option.
“It is a problem,” admitted Ancelotti. “We are missing two very important players but Belletti is back in training and doing well. We will find a solution but Ashley and Yuri will be missed.”
Ancelotti denied claiming every neutral in his homeland would be supporting Chelsea, owing to the unpopularity of the outspoken Mourinho: “I never said this. I respect Inter Milan fully. I understand how much Inter want to win this cup but we also want to win it.”
Mourinho, who clashed with Ancelotti last season while the latter was in charge of rivals AC Milan, also played down remarks, perceived as mind games, that he knew Chelsea’s weaknesses well having assembled much of the current team.
“I know Chelsea well but that does not mean it’s any easier,” Mourinho said. “Sometimes it’s more difficult because when you know so much about the team.”
Holders Barcelona draw at Stuttgart
BARCELONA striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic netted a second-half equaliser to earn the holders a 1-1 draw in the first leg if their Champions League last 16 tie with Stuttgart. Brazilian forward Cacau headed the home side in front in Germany before the break but Ibrahimovic levelled at the second attempt after Jens Lehman saved his initial effort. A header from Bordeaux defender Michael Ciani was enough to give the French champions a 1-0 first leg win at Olympiakos in the night’s other match.