Ancelotti: Difficult to close the gap
Carlo Ancelotti today insisted a Chelsea victory over Manchester United could be crucial to his side's season, despite admitting they had almost no chance of catching the English Premier League leaders. A game with United at Stamford Bridge is perennially billed as a title decider but it appears all Ancelotti's men can achieve on that front tomorrow night is to dent their opponents bid to depose them as champions.
Chelsea head into the game a massive 15 points behind Sir Alex Ferguson's side, whose only realistic challengers now look like second-placed Arsenal. However, with the Blues needing victory to climb back above Tottenham into fourth place, manager Ancelotti believes there is still plenty riding on the outcome.
"It's a very important game for them, for us, for the future of Manchester United and the future of Chelsea," said Ancelotti, whose side put a three-match winless run behind them last week by beating FC Copenhagen in the UEFA Champions League.
"We are excited to play this game. We arrive at it at a good moment. We have confidence to do our best and win it. It won't be easy. United have been, until now, the best team in the Premier League. For us, it's important to win, not just for the result but to improve our confidence after the victory at Copenhagen, where we played very well."
Captain John Terry claimed after that win that Chelsea could yet benefit from a United meltdown. However, Ancelotti said: "United can decide their own destiny. Our aim is different at this moment. Our aim is still to compete with them. We are not mathematically out so we have to keep believing. But we need also to be honest, it would be difficult for us to close the gap. We want to arrive in the top four - this is our aim."
United are widely considered to lead the Premier League without having played particularly well for much of the season but Ancelotti was complimentary about their performances. "They've played consistently," he said, acutely aware his side have failed to do the same. "They've only lost one league game and are playing focused, concentrated. That's why they're top of the table."
For the fourth time in the last five games, Ancelotti's big selection decision revolves around whether to play Fernando Torres, Didier Drogba, or both. Confirming only that both would "be involved" at some stage against United, Ancelotti added: "They can play together without problem. We're working on that in training. They don't have a problem playing with each other."
The Italian refused to be drawn on speculation about Drogba's Stamford Bridge future and once again backed the misfiring Torres to come good. "Obviously, for a striker it's important to score," Ancelotti said regarding Torres, who once again failed to find the net in Copenhagen. "But, above all in the last game, he played very well. He had four opportunities to score and was denied by the goalkeeper and he moved very well for the team. He'd have preferred to score, but he will."
Nicolas Anelka appeared to seal his place in the starting line-up tomorrow with a deadly double against the Danes. However, most of the Frenchman's goals have come away from home this season.
"Anelka can show his quality when he has space and, at home, it's more difficult for him to find the space," said Ancelotti. "It depends on the behaviour of the team during the game. Against United, we won't have a lot of space but, if we can move well at the right time, we can find the space to counter-attack them. He can show his quality."