Monday 18 December 2017

Ancelotti backing Torres to deliver

Mark Fleming

CARLO ANCELOTTI comes across neither as an incurable gambler desperate for one last throw of the dice, nor an unrealistic dreamer with his head in the clouds, yet the Chelsea manager seems ready to put the club's late charge at the Premier League title back in the hands of Fernando Torres.

The last time he started with Torres and Didier Drogba up front, the pair played 70 minutes and exchanged just five passes, one of which was at kick-off.

"Disaster, disaster," was Ancelotti's joking response when asked how the two strikers had combined in training together this week, but he might as well have been describing their total lack of understanding at home to Manchester United in the Champions League quarter-final first leg.

Ancelotti went on to say their relationship "has improved", which, it must be said, would not have been difficult.

It is no coincidence that Chelsea's revival has followed once Ancelotti reduced Torres to a mere supporting role. The £50m Spaniard was substituted at half-time in the return leg at Old Trafford and he has not started in the three games since.

The 4-4-2 formation that Ancelotti had cooked up in a failed bid to accommodate Torres was thrown into the tactical bin, and it was back to the old, faithful 4-3-3 formation with an indignant Drogba restored to his familiar role at the top of the team.

Torres was given the sort of treatment that, looking back, he probably should have received when he signed, coming off the bench to play 20 minutes here and there to ease him into the side without upsetting things too much, rather than just being thrown into the starting line-up straight away.

Torres' goal against West Ham last Saturday, his first in 14 games for Chelsea, appears to be at the forefront of Ancelotti's mind however. Drogba's form since stepping from the bench at Old Trafford has made him undroppable, so the Italian is toying once again with the idea of playing them both against Tottenham at Stamford Bridge today.


Ancelotti is relieved to have rediscovered the old Drogba, who turned 33 recently and is fit again after suffering from malaria at the end of last year.

The Chelsea manager said: "Didier was -- and is -- important for this club and will be in the future.

"When we have this kind of player, we have to try to keep them as long as possible. He could play for longer. His body is strong and fit and hasn't had big injury problems in the past. I would like to have his body."

Ancelotti has Drogba and Torres to worry about, but he also has to accommodate Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda, who has scored three goals in his last two games, somewhere in his front line.

So far, there has been little dissent from the squad about not getting enough game time, and Ancelotti is confident the good spirit in the Chelsea dressing-room will continue.

"Every player has an ego, above all strikers," he said. "When you speak you have to put in their minds that the most important thing is the team. The best thing is for every player to use their individual ability for the team.

"You can fight against the ego for this reason. Players have to understand the most important thing is using ability and skill for the team. That is the difference between a good and a top player -- his ability to support the play of the team and all the team."

Chelsea are still thinking of the title, while Tottenham are in danger of missing out on fourth place and another season in the Champions League, but manager Harry Redknapp has ruled out selling any of their big names should the worst happen.

Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart have all been linked with moves away from White Hart Lane, but Redknapp insists they will not depart if Spurs only finish fifth.

"If you do sell them, you may as well accept you're a mid-table team," Redknapp said.

"We are trying to be a Champions League team and we will not do that by selling our best players."

Redknapp maintains that Tottenham are still firmly in the race for fourth and predicts his side's tussle with Manchester City will go down to the wire, even though they are currently four points behind and face a tougher run-in.

"We need to go to Stamford Bridge and win. It will be a tough game, but we have to try and pick up three points to stay in that race," Redknapp said.

"Man City are in pole position now but it's all to play for. We have to be positive and win as many as we can. It can still be done. The idea is to be in striking distance when we go to Man City (on May 10)."

The Spurs boss has never hidden his dislike of the Europa League and admits the possibility of competing among Europe's second tier fills him with dread.

"Our first year in the Champions League has been hard. It has taken its toll, but the Europa League takes a bigger toll," Redknapp said.

"Playing on Thursday and Sunday is not ideal but if that's what we end up with, that's what we end up with."

Redknapp is fearful that Torres is getting back to his best after finally opening his Chelsea account last week, but has been boosted by the return to form of his own talisman, Van der Vaart, who scored twice in the draw with Arsenal.

"Rafa is a goal-scoring threat as well as a top footballer. He is a big-game player and we are looking for him to turn in a big performance." (© Independent News Service)

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