Tuesday 12 December 2017

Ancelotti's future on the lineafter freezing in heat of battle

Jason Burt

It wasn't the defeat, it was the nature of it. The sight of so many of Chelsea's leading players failing to rise to the occasion and, unfortunately, the failure of their manager Carlo Ancelotti to deal with the pressure.

Manchester United's first goal, executed inside 40 seconds, summed up the disarray. Not because it was scored but by the aftermath. Everyone knows Javier Hernandez's predatory instinct so it was no surprise to see him capitalise on Chelsea's mistakes.

What was the shock was to then see David Luiz react as if he was not to blame -- "who me?" he was seen to mouth -- and Ancelotti immediately sending out Alex to warm-up. Only a few minutes had elapsed. Then Chelsea conceded a second and it was game over; Premier League over; season over for the visitors and Ancelotti.

Is it game over for the manager? Yes. Unless Roman Abramovich -- who was not in attendance -- fails to find a suitable replacement. He will redouble his efforts after this. How could his team gift United a two-goal lead so easily? Ancelotti looks unhappy also. He appeared, at times, a man resigned, looking for the exit, not comfortable in his environment.

Luiz was taken off at half-time. A very public humiliation. Ancelotti maintained he was "not angry" with the Brazilian but he clearly had appeared to be and how wounding that the £25m signing, his January signing, had caused such angst. "I was not angry," Ancelotti insisted. "I took him out at half-time but if I had 11 substitutes at my disposal I would have wanted to use them." Fair enough, but the changes he did make were strange.

Chelsea had to score three goals and Ancelotti took off Luiz and John Obi Mikel, replacing them with Alex and Ramires. It meant that when it came to that third and final change, Ancelotti could only bring on one striker. And that one striker was Fernando Torres. He had one chance; he fluffed it.

Given that Chelsea needed to effect such a dramatic turnaround it was a curious show of hand. Luiz had not played well -- but did taking him off, given his capacity to also score a goal, make sense? Did surrendering Mikel for Ramires, who should have started, make a big enough difference either?

Nicolas Anelka and Yossi Benayoun -- game-breakers -- were left on the bench.

Over-run in midfield by United's work-rate and energy, with Ji-Sung Park and Antonio Valencia outstanding, too many of Chelsea's big players didn't come to the plate. This wasn't a good game for John Terry, for Ashley Cole, for Frank Lampard and, above all, for Michael Essien, who looks a man struggling for form after all his injuries.

It was nervy at the end. But how many chances did Chelsea actually miss? Not as many as United. It was their wastefulness, not Chelsea's performance, that generated the tension because although the visitors pushed forward, it was in the hope of something happening.

This from a team who arrived here after eight league wins and one draw, as they slashed United's 15-point lead at the top of the league -- but in the knowledge also that they have not performed that well to do so and that, deep down, they knew they were inferior to the side they faced after the comprehensive Champions League exit.

Ancelotti's tactics and team selection will be poured over and he went with the logic of leaving out Torres and starting with Didier Drogba. There was nothing wrong with that and, interestingly, the manager had also previewed this encounter by stating the difference would not be formations or line-ups -- but desire and "no fear".

Unfortunately his players, and he, froze. The fear was palpable. "They played better than us and deserved to win the game and the title," Ancelotti said of United.

There was also what sounded like a farewell. "The players have done really well and I want to thank them," he said of his squad.

"I don't know what the owner thinks about the season. In my opinion we could do better. To explain now the reason, we need to have more time." And that is running out. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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