Sunday 25 February 2018

Ancelotti hailed as resilient Blues keep dream alive

Chelsea 2
Tottenham 1

Glenn Moore

There are prizes still to be won and lost, but modern football moves with such relentless pace that next season is already on the agenda.

Major decisions loom at Chelsea and Tottenham, so it was hardly surprising that, even as the inquest raged over this controversial match, key protagonists sought to influence the men who will make them.

From Chelsea captain John Terry, the message was that the players back Carlo Ancelotti, who faced more headlines yesterday suggesting his departure was inevitable.

From Spurs manager Harry Redknapp, it was that the club must invest anew, or slip back.

Terry's missive was more oblique, but his paean of praise was unprompted and wholehearted. "We've got a great manager the players believe in and trust, and who has kept us going," he said.

"Ancelotti deserves a great deal of credit. He took a lot of stick but he kept us going. Since we lost to Manchester United (in the Champions League) he's been brilliant.

"He spoke after 15 minutes of silence and said: 'Listen, we can make our season what we want it to be. We don't give up now, we continue right to the end, for our football club, for our supporters and for ourselves.'

"Over the next few days in training things were low but he picked everyone up and got them going again. He's kept everyone fresh and hungry. We will never give up. That's what has made us the club we are in the last six or seven years. We've got that mentality on the training pitch, a great manager the players believe in and trust.

"United were 15 points clear at one point, which I thought made them out of sight. Winning the league would certainly be up there with when we won it for the first time in 50 years."

Rafa Benitez, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten are the leading names in the frame to replace Ancelotti, but it is hard to argue that any of them represent a better chance of success than the Italian, the only man to lead Chelsea to the Double.

For his part, Ancelotti said that, if Chelsea were to pip United and successfully defend their title "it will be really strange," adding, "we have very little chance, because the title is not in our hands, but we have momentum."

If the dream was still alive for Ancelotti, especially after United's defeat yesterday, then Redknapp had given up on his, accepting this defeat renders the prospect of an instant return to the Champions League very unlikely.

They may well finish behind Liverpool, but since that removes the onerous Europa League from next season's fixture list, Redknapp is not exactly distraught at the prospect.

"Playing (in the Europa League) is not ideal," he said. "I thought the reason we finished in the Champions League position last year was because we weren't involved in Europe; that was a big advantage."

No Champions League football next season might make the likes of Gareth Bale and Luka Modric reconsider their future at the club, but Redknapp insisted: "We weren't in the Champions League when they came here so I don't see that being a problem.

"They know we're a good side, but what we've got to do is add one or two top-drawer players, show them we mean business, and get back in the Champions League."

Redknapp said he had yet to speak directly with chairman Daniel Levy about the issue but added: "I'm sure he's got to be positive -- where do you go if you're not?

"Chelsea looked like they might have dropped out of the top four round about transfer-window time so they went and spent £75m on two players,'' added Redknapp, thinking of Fernando Torres and David Luiz.

"I'm not saying we should spend £75m, but we need to keep positive and moving forward.

"It was hard for us in January. The players I wanted like (Villarreal's Giuseppe) Rossi suddenly got too dear -- £35m."

Although Tottenham continue to lose more often than not against the leading teams, they showed enough at Stamford Bridge to justify Redknapp's belief that they "can play against anybody now", and were unfortunate to lose after taking the lead through Sandro, who conjured up one of the goals of the season with a magical half-volley.

But Chelsea kept going. Terry kept exhorting them and Frank Lampard kept pushing on, even attempting his luck from 25 yards just before half-time. The ball slipped through Heurelho Gomes' occasionally slippery clutches and rolled towards the line.

As Redknapp -- Lampard's uncle -- rightly pointed out afterwards, assistant referee Mike Cairns had to be guessing over whether the ball had crossed the line. An honest guess, but still a guess -- and a wrong one which will surely strengthen the argument for goal-line technology.

On level terms, however fortuitously, Chelsea largely dominated the second half -- all the more so after Torres went off, again raising doubts about his partnership with Didier Drogba.

Once the Ivorian was central again, rather than in his unsatisfactory right-wing role, he was more like his old menacing self.


Chelsea were denied what seemed a definite penalty before they struck for a controversial winner.

Drogba's mis-hit shot found Salomon Kalou standing in an offside position. Again, the assistant referee, this time Martin Yerby, missed the offence, allowing Kalou to control the ball and slide the ball past Gomes.

Chelsea celebrated wildly, leaving Redknapp with plenty to ponder.

Assistant referees are, of course, not the only people who make mistakes and Gomes' latest blunder will surely hasten the arrival of a new No 1 at White Hart Lane.

Not that he was Spurs' worst performer -- Aaron Lennon was largely missing and Roman Pavlyuchenko abysmal.

Spurs thus had the game's best and worst performers, for Modric was outstanding and Sandro coupled his superb opening goal with a series of impeccable tackles. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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