Wednesday 21 March 2018

Ancelotti relishing titanic title struggle

Matt Hughes

CARLO ANCELOTTI is so relaxed before the title run-in that he will snub Manchester United's match against Tottenham Hotspur this lunchtime in favour of a trip to the cinema, but he will not be able to escape so easily if the Premier League trophy stays at Old Trafford.

The Chelsea manager conceded yesterday that this season will go down as a failure if his side do not win the league after leading for so long. Such a scenario would leave him facing an uncomfortable summer.

Ancelotti's honest admission is supported by the lessons of history. Three of his four immediate predecessors left Stamford Bridge months after failing to win the league and Luiz Felipe Scolari was not even permitted to finish the season, yet still Ancelotti is able to smile.

The Italian's affable demeanour is no front. At a dinner this week he entertained a table of journalists with reminiscences of his playing career before bringing the house down with a series of crude jokes that made the waiters blush -- indications of a man at ease with his surroundings.

After winning the Scudetto only once in Italy, Ancelotti is enjoying being plunged into the cut and thrust of a title race in his first season in England and is increasingly confident of winning it.

"We have to win the league to make it a successful season," he said. "At this point of the season we have to win. I am excited because it's a very important moment of the season, maybe the most important.

"Pressure is the engine of life. Stress is the engine of life. You have to cope with the pressure, the stress."

Ancelotti's choice of cinematic viewing -- in contrast to Fabio Capello, he favours the multiplex over the art-house -- reflects his simple pleasures, yet also represents an attempt to take some pressure off his players.

Rather than being hauled off to a hotel in preparation for tomorrow's visit of Stoke City, his squad can go their separate ways after training today. The manager hopes that it will help them to approach the match in a relaxed manner.

"We have training tomorrow (Saturday) morning and, in the afternoon, we can go to the movies to see a film," he said. "We are not interested in Manchester United's result. There are some fantastic films on: maybe 'Clash of the Titans'. The players feel the pressure now because Chelsea are very close to winning the title for the first time in four years. But this is normal. It's better to have this than to stay 10 points behind and not have anything to play for."

With one point and three goals separating the two contenders with three matches remaining, Ancelotti believes that the title will be won by the side who hold their nerve.

"It comes down to mentality," he said. "I've always said we have a very good squad, not only technically, but with a good mentality.

"We have moved through very difficult moments. We went out of the Champions League and had a very good reaction. We lost to Manchester City and had a good reaction. This team has shown a lot of courage and personality to get through moments like this. The title is in our hands -- we can decide our own future." (© The Times, London)

Chelsea v Stoke,

Live, tomorrow, Sky Sports 1, 4.0

Irish Independent

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