CAPITAL PAINS AND GAINS

Chelsea and Villas-Boas face Euro exit after late goal sends them to fourth defeat in five

BAYER LEVERKUSEN 2 vs CHELSEA 1

CHELSEA manager Andre Villas-Boas admits he faces the biggest challenge of his fledgling managerial career to lift the confidence of his ailing team, who are now in real danger of suffering an ignominious Champions League exit following last night’s defeat in Leverkusen.

A Didier Drogba goal in the 49th minute looked likely to be enough for Chelsea to secure a place in the knockout stages for the 10th consecutive season, before defensive lapses allowed Eren Derdiyok to equalise and Manuel Friedrich to head an injury-time winner.

Chelsea, who have suffered four defeats in their last five matches in all competitions, must now beat Valencia, or hold the Spaniards to a goalless draw, at Stamford Bridge in a fortnight’s time to avoid dropping into the Europa League.

Villas-Boas acknowledged confidence was low, adding: “But that’s when the players expect the manager to inspire them. That’s my job. That’s my task, to inspire these people and motivate these people to change our faith.

“The responsibility is mine and it’s my task now to inspire and motivate them to take them to a win against Wolves and certainly after to a win against Liverpool in the Carling Cup.”

While Chelsea continue to stutter, Group E rivals Valencia appear to be in rude health having hammered seven goals past Genk without reply last night and will represent a stern test of Chelsea’s European credentials.

“We will need Stamford Bridge completely behind us to get the intensity right and the emotions right for the game,” Villas-Boas said. “It’s in our hands to qualify. It’s a game at Stamford Bridge and we expect to do our job. ”

Former Chelsea midfielder Michael Ballack came closest to breaking the deadlock in a fractious first-half when his header beat Petr Cech but came back off the crossbar.

The visitors had offered little by way of an attacking threat, but opened the scoring four minutes into the second half when Drogba latched onto Daniel Strurridge’s pass, span his marker and rifled left-footed into the corner.

The goal stung the home side into action and Ballack, seemingly on a personal crusade to get one over on his old employers, was denied twice in a matter of moments by Cech.

But the goalkeeper was left stranded with 17 minutes remaining when some now customary haphazard defending saw Sidney Sam waltz through unmarked down Chelsea’s right and cross to the far post, where substitute Derdiyok was waiting to head home with his first touch.

Chelsea were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty in the closing stages when Drogba fell under a challenge from Friedrich and more frustration was to follow when the German defender rose unchallenged to plant a header past a flat-footed Cech.