Ancelotti: Title race still on
Carlo Ancelotti is refusing to obsess over the form of Manchester United as he tries to figure out a way of hauling Chelsea back into the Premier League title race.
Last night saw the Blues finally stop the rot that had set in over the previous two months by grinding out a 1-0 win over Bolton Wanderers at Stamford Bridge. It was ugly, nervy, and somewhat lucky but the three points were all that mattered for a side that had not won any of their previous six league matches and were on their worst run for 11 years.
Having tossed away a five-point lead to slump to fifth in the table, Chelsea have climbed back up to fourth and to within four points of United, who had been held to a 1-1 draw at Birmingham City. The still-unbeaten leaders have a game in hand over Ancelotti's men, who will need them to drop more points if the championship is to be retained.
Ancelotti, who has admitted his side would have been out of the title race had they not won yesterday, expects more twists and turns at the top of the table but will not spend an undue amount of time worrying about the fortunes of Chelsea's biggest rivals. "We don't have to look at United," he said. "This is a very difficult championship because every game can have a difficulty. It's a Premier League with a lot of balance, so nothing is decided now."
Last night's win eased the pressure on Ancelotti, who had received the backing of billionaire owner Roman Abramovich following Monday's limp defeat at Arsenal. Ancelotti is well aware Abramovich's patience is not without limit and admits recent weeks have taken their toll. "It's a hard period. That's normal," he said. "It was a very difficult period. We have to keep going now. We have to maintain good focus on our training and on our games."
Transfer window targets
Rather than sack Ancelotti, Abramovich may now decide to back him in the January transfer window. A defender is the Chelsea manager's number one target should the knee injury that has sidelined Alex continue to rule the Brazilian out next month. Bolton's Gary Cahill is rumoured to be top of the list while reports in Portugal have claimed the Blues have had a £17million bid for Benfica's David Luiz knocked back.
And despite Branislav Ivanovic being suspended for Sunday's game with Aston Villa after foolishly getting booked in his final match before the mid-season yellow card amnesty, Ancelotti insists he is in no rush to splash Abramovich's cash.
"We didn't speak about this but we have one month," he said. "[If] we need to have some players, I said a lot of times that we are able to do it." There will not be wholesale changes, of course, which means Ancelotti must continue to try to get the best out of his existing squad. "We are not at our best," he said. "But I think we can improve - we have to improve."
That assessment was backed up by Bolton manager Owen Coyle, whose side could easily have snatched a point last night. "Ultimately, if you're not winning games then confidence erodes," he said.
"But what I do know is that might just be the game that kick-starts them because they have undoubted quality. They're a fantastic football club and, all of a sudden, they're right back in the mix. That's the beauty of football. It can change very quickly. I've got no doubts they'll be amongst the honours."