Ancelotti talks future, Torres troubles
Carlo Ancelotti has insisted his job as Chelsea manager does not depend on turning around the club's UEFA Champions League quarter-final against Manchester United. Wednesday night's 1-0 first-leg defeat to the Red Devils at Stamford Bridge has left the Blues in danger of finishing a season without a trophy for only the third time since Roman Abramovich's takeover. On both other occasions, the Russian sacked the manager, despite Claudio Ranieri and Avram Grant leading the side to the semi-finals and final of Europe's biggest club tournament respectively.
Ancelotti was recruited because of his reputation as a specialist in continental competition, but a last 16 and quarter-final exit in his two seasons in charge would suggest Chelsea have gone backwards, rather than forwards, in that competition. The Italian was nevertheless defiant about his own job prospects today.
"I don't think the decision on my future at the club rests on whether or not I win the Champions League," he said. "The club knows me very well, knows my behaviour, and they will take their decision on that. Until now, the support is totally 100 per cent. I don't have a problem with this."
Crashing out of the Champions League would not be the only black mark against Ancelotti this season. Chelsea also suffered early exits in both domestic cup competitions and sit fourth in the Premier League, 11 points behind leaders United with a game in hand. Both Ranieri and Grant managed to finish second when they were given the boot, although Ancelotti can point to having won the double last season, while much of what has gone wrong this term has been beyond his control.
Rumours persist the signing of Fernando Torres was one of Abramovich's whims, but Ancelotti has always denied this, insisting it was a collective decision. However, the former Azzurri midfielder appears to have been left with a £50m misfit, who appears unable to slot into either of Chelsea's preferred formations.
Ancelotti dismissed captain John Terry's assertion Torres's record-breaking price tag may be weighing heavily on the Spaniard. "I was a player and the players, I think, don't think about the money, about the transfer money or salary," he said. "This is not a good moment for Fernando. But he has the support first from himself - his confidence - and from his manager and team-mates."
One team-mate who may hold the key to unlocking Torres's potential is the fit-again Yossi Benayoun, who linked up so well with the striker while they were at Liverpool.
"Benayoun is the player who knows Fernando best because they've played together, and that can help him to move on from this particular moment," Ancelotti said. "He has fantastic ability with his final pass to help Fernando. He's not 100 per cent fit yet. He was out for six months, but he's doing really well."
It remains to be seen whether either Benayoun or Torres start tomorrow's Premier League game with Wigan Athletic, with Ancelotti saying he would rest anyone tired from Wednesday night's exertions. The bottom club would appear tailor-made for Torres to end his drought, having conceded 14 goals in their last two meetings with Chelsea.
However, Ancelotti is adamant it would not be that easy tomorrow: "This will be a different game. Wigan played very well and didn't concede last week against Tottenham. Our aim is to win, to score one more goal than the opponent, and to play good football."
Even if Torres's misery persists, Ancelotti has vowed to stick by him, pointing out he did the same with Hernan Crespo while in charge at AC Milan. "Crespo went his first six months in Milan without scoring a goal," he said. "He then scored two goals in the final of the Champions League."
With United having never lost a European tie after winning the first leg away, it remains to be seen whether Torres will get the chance to emulate that feat.