Thursday 14 December 2017

Ancelotti: Inter loss left Chelsea filled with doubt

Matt Hughes

CARLO Ancelotti admitted yesterday that his players have been harbouring doubts about whether they are good enough to win the Premier League.

Chelsea can go back to the top of the table by beating Aston Villa this afternoon, if only for a matter of hours before Manchester United visit Bolton. But the Blues' recent results have been indifferent, a run of form their manager attributes to mental fragility.

Ancelotti conceded that last week's Champions League exit at the hands of Inter Milan had hit his players hard, leading to fears that they are destined to fail. Chelsea have not won the domestic title since Jose Mourinho's second league triumph in 2006.

"Mentally it wasn't good for us to go out of the Champions League," Ancelotti said. "Maybe in their minds there could be this thought (of being nearly men), having come so close in the league and the Champions League for the last few years. Chelsea haven't won the title for a long time, so we need to win this.

"We show tranquillity on the outside, but on the inside it's different. Every game is important and we have the adrenalin up before the game. But it's better to think we can win and we need to do our best to win this title."

Ancelotti is hoping that the 5-0 thrashing of Portsmouth at Fratton Park on Wednesday will have given his players enough confidence to battle with United and Arsenal all the way to the finishing line, but will not be sure of such a transformation until after today's visit of Villa.

Martin O'Neill's side -- who are also their opponents in the FA Cup semi-final next month -- have enjoyed considerable success against Chelsea recently, beating them at Villa Park in October and sharing a 4-4 draw at Stamford Bridge the season before last. Nicolas Anelka will return up front after being rested on Wednesday and Michael Ballack will replace Deco in midfield after recovering from a tendon injury.

"After the game against Portsmouth there was a different atmosphere: more excited, more confidence," Ancelotti said. "We want to play well and show we're out of our bad moment and can look forward with optimism to the Manchester United game (at Old Trafford a week today). For me now the most important game is Villa, not United."

Ancelotti claims to be unaffected by the pressure of trying to lead Chelsea to the title. The Italian has won only one championship in his managerial career, but is confident of completing the job on this occasion, despite painful memories of a missed opportunity with Juventus.

"I once lost the championship after being nine points clear with eight games to play, so you can never think you're sure to win the title," he said.

"It's nothing to do with destiny. If you are better, you'll win the title." (© The Times, London)

Chelsea v Aston Villa,

Live, Setanta Ireland, 3.0

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