Saturday 24 March 2018

Ancelotti starting to feel the heat

Chelsea 1
Everton 1
Lethargic Blues leave themselves open to wrath of Abramovich

Jermaine Beckford scored the equaliser for Everton. Photo: Getty Images
Jermaine Beckford scored the equaliser for Everton. Photo: Getty Images

Jason Burt

The history of Roman Abramovich's ownership of Chelsea would suggest one thing above all: that Carlo Ancelotti is already living on borrowed time.

Given the manager's own unease over his job, it's understood that his long-term future is something he himself is considering, and there is no real guarantee he wants to stay beyond this season, then there a gathering storm, a growing sense of crisis.

Certainly there was tension in the home dressing-room after the crushing disappointment of this draw at home to Everton -- it was the most tense Ancelotti has been with his players -- with Chelsea delivering the kind of second-half performance that will leave the Italian darkly questioning whether the team has learnt anything under him.

And when Abramovich comes to discuss this display, and the current run of one victory in six league matches, with his right-hand man and Chelsea director Eugene Tenenbaum and chairman Bruce Buck, there will be one question he wants answered: is there a sense that the club may slip out of contention under Ancelotti?

If there is an affirmative answer to that, then it's likely that the process will kick in to find his successor. It's the criteria Chelsea always use.

They can't argue otherwise following their abrupt treatment of Luiz Felipe Scolari and following Jose Mourinho's sudden departure -- albeit one that was months in the brewing -- while the danger the club risks should Ancelotti also go is this: who exactly is going to be attracted to replacing him? After all, his appointment was a perfect fit. The clamour for Barcelona's Pep Guardiola will grow but, surely, there is no benefit in the Catalan exposing himself to the Stamford Bridge circus. A new contract for him at the Nou Camp remains the most likely outcome there.

With league matches against Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Arsenal -- and then sixth-placed Bolton Wanderers two days after that last fixture -- to come, then it will soon be written that Ancelotti has three games to save himself at Chelsea.

Certainly December has been a cruel month for the men Abramovich has appointed in the past and if there is a belief that Ancelotti doesn't quite have the same feeling for Chelsea that he did then the ice will grow even thinner. Those discussions have not been had yet by the Chelsea hierarchy and, surely, when they step back from this there may be a realisation that they are asking an awful lot from Ancelotti -- retain the league title, win the Champions League (and do both playing entertaining football) and with a squad in transition, attempting to blood young players from the academy.

The most worrying aspect of this performance was that -- Frank Lampard and, arguably, Alex apart -- this was pretty much Ancelotti's strongest team and yet the way the belief drained from them in the second half, resorting to "long-ball" as the infuriated manager put it, was deeply alarming for them.

There were, of course, a handful of deeply controversial incidents while Everton, having now achieved a fifth successive draw away to Chelsea, confirmed Ancelotti's belief that in David Moyes they have one of the most astute managers.

They perhaps should have won for the game's best performers were in their colours.

Chelsea will argue that Tim Howard should have been dismissed for the collision with Nicolas Anelka that afforded Didier Drogba, from the penalty spot, the chance to score his first league goal in two months -- but the Everton goalkeeper was equally vociferous in claiming Anelka ran into him.

Then there was Tim Cahill's reckless studs up challenge that resulted in stitches being inserted in Petr Cech's face -- but equally, again, an admonishment from Moyes that he would have been furious with his player if he had not gone for the ball.

And while Chelsea can, also, point to a penalty that should have been when Seamus Coleman clattered into Ashley Cole, there was the Everton argument that Florent Malouda was fortunate to escape any sanction for kneeing Phil Neville in the chest after the latter's poor challenge.

It was Neville's woeful back-pass that led to Chelsea taking the lead and although John Terry struck the goal-frame with a dinked shot, Jack Rodwell hit it also with a header before Jermaine Beckford met Cahill's header back, from a cross on the run by the exceptional Leighton Baines, to earn a point and crank up the pressure on Ancelotti.

There were little flashes of dissent from a couple of Chelsea players also while, yet again, Ray Wilkins's replacement as Ancelotti's assistant, Michael Emenalo, sat looking bemused. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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