Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti believes victory over Manchester United in Sunday's crucial showdown would provide the spark to ignite a renewed challenge for the Premier League title. Ancelotti's side have slumped to fourth place after a woeful run of five league games without a win and a defeat at Stamford Bridge this weekend would leave them six points behind leaders United.
Sir Alex Ferguson's team also have a game in hand against Blackpool which could allow them to extend that lead further, but Ancelotti refuses to dwell on the potentially disastrous impact of another loss. Instead, he is talking up the prospect of Chelsea emulating last season's two victories over United.
The Blues boss insists the confidence gained from those results played a major role in his side's title triumph and he sees no reason why they can't repeat the trick this term. "It is good for confidence to say you can beat Man United as we did last year. It is good for the personality and character of the team," Ancelotti said today.
"This game could be a fantastic moment for us. There is a different atmosphere at the training ground this week. I think we have got past that difficult moment and we can use this game as a fantastic motivation to get better. It is difficult to compare a victory against Man United with another victory. It is still three points but to beat Man United, one of the best teams in Europe, could be fantastic for the atmosphere in the squad."
While Ancelotti is well aware of the extra significance attached to Chelsea's summit meetings with United, he is adamant the west London club could lose on Sunday and still retain the title.
He believes the additional challenges from Manchester City and Tottenham this season have made it a tighter campaign at the top, with many more points likely to be dropped before the trophy is handed out in May.
"It will be an important game but it is not a decisive game because there are a lot of teams involved at the top of the table who are fighting and thinking they can win title," Ancelotti said. "There are a lot of important games and it is too early to say it is decisive.
"The quality at the top is the same. The difference is last year Man City and Tottenham weren't involved at the top. Now there is more balance. Playing against Man United or Arsenal is always one of the most important games of the season.
"United were our most difficult opponents last year. They fought for the title until the last game and I think it will be same this year. We were able to win both games against them last year. This time it is a different story. They arrive for this game in a better position than us and with good confidence.
"They have the advantage in the table. We want to use this game to improve our position and stay close to them."
After a worrying run of lacklustre performances, Ancelotti was relieved to see his players produce a more dynamic display as they battled back to earn a 1-1 draw with Tottenham last Sunday.
The return to fitness of England midfielder Frank Lampard after over three months out injured is another major boost. Lampard will start on Sunday and Ancelotti has seen signs of a much more positive atmosphere around the club this week.
"The Tottenham game was good for us because we played well even if we didn't win," he added. "We trained well with all the players fit, the atmosphere was better than in the last few weeks."