Villas-Boas pledges to reverse Chelsea slide
Chelsea's under-fire manager Andre Villas-Boas has pledged to lead them out of their slump after the Blues' UEFA Champions League hopes suffered a huge blow with a shock defeat at Bayer Leverkusen.
Despite his team taking a second-half lead, Chelsea lost 2-1 at Leverkusen on Wednesday as Villas-Boas suffered his fourth defeat in seven games and his side now have to beat Valencia in a fortnight to stay in the Champions League.
A header from Leverkusen defender Manuel Friedrich in the 91st minute saw the hosts complete a fairytale comeback as victory sent them both top of Group E and into the Round of 16. Valencia's 7-0 rout of Genk leaves them second with Chelsea now third in the table and just one point separates the three teams.
After Didier Drogba's second-half strike had put Chelsea ahead, Swiss striker Eren Derdiyok came off the bench to equalise 93 seconds later before Friedrich's dramatic winner. Chelsea must beat Valencia at Stamford Bridge to go through, while even if Leverkusen lose at Genk in a fortnight, they will at least finish second in the group.
In his first season with Chelsea since being bought from Porto at great expense, Villas-Boas now has two home games, against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League and Liverpool in the League Cup, and says only hard work will break their slump.
"We are all committed to this squad and these players, we believe in their talent and we have to fight our way out," he said. "It's my job now to inspire the players and motivate them.
"The work we have been doing is good, the talent of these players is immense, the responsibility is mine. We have two games now at home and we have to get the focus and motivation right and we need our fans behind us in this critical stage."
The manager says he particularly needs the support of Chelsea's fans at Stamford Bridge when they face Valencia. "It means we go to the last game against Valencia to decide our qualification," said the 34-year-old. "They are a team on the up, we will need Stamford Bridge behind us, it's in our hands. It's our responsibility and we don't want to let the fans down."
Delight for Blues old-boy Ballack
The victory was extra sweet for Leverkusen's former Germany captain Michael Ballack, who orchestrated the hosts' attack against his former club and had a memorable 100th Champions League game. "We tried to take a few more risks and felt we deserved the draw, but to go and take the victory, we are delighted," said the 35-year-old.
Leverkusen coach Robin Dutt, in his first season with Bayer after joining from Freiburg, paid tribute to his players belief. "The lads absolutely deserved to win and delivered a passionate performance," said Dutt.
"We had already gave ourselves a good chance by beating Valencia at home (in October), that speaks for the character and quality of this team. Against Genk, we will try and make sure we finish in first place."