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Chelsea stars face axe

Carlo Ancelotti yesterday said he would have no qualms about pitching the likes of Josh McEachran and Daniel Sturridge into Chelsea's battle to finish in the top four -- even if it meant dropping some of the club's under-performing stars.

With Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and Florent Malouda struggling for form, Ancelotti said he would delay until the morning his decision on who will face Blackburn at Stamford Bridge today.

"I have some doubts for the selection, doubts up front and also in midfield," the Chelsea manager said.

Have the strong showings by McEachran and Sturridge in the 7-0 FA Cup demolition of Ipswich Town provided those doubts? "This is maybe the reason," Ancelotti added. "There were important performances, so I have to take them into consideration."


Ancelotti is excited by McEachran, the slight 17-year-old midfielder with drooping shoulders who can pick a pass and take on the responsibility to run a game.

"McEachran is ready to start in the Premier League," he said. "He has confidence, is strong. You can look at him and think he won't be strong in the tackle, but he was against Ipswich. He doesn't lack anything."

The likelihood is Ancelotti will stick with the more experienced players, although Sturridge will probably get a chance in attack. Blackburn may not be the opponents to blood youth against, especially with Ancelotti knowing that Chelsea have to put together a run of victories to have any chance of retaining their title.

"Now is the time to come back and close the gap," he said. "After this game, we can say whether we are back. We needed 86 points to win it last year. This year, the team will need less, 80 points is enough. We can try. It'll be tough."

Chelsea are still grappling with a loss of confidence, something Frank Lampard highlighted when he chose to compare the atmosphere around the camp to the last days of the doomed Luiz Felipe Scolari regime.

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"This is not good news," Ancelotti said. "I think the players, the team, lost some confidence in their football, the football that we played very well last year... when a player has a difficult moment, you have to try and understand what the problem is: is it mental or physical? We have to check everything and find the solution."

After last season's double, Ancelotti knows he has more credit at the club than Scolari. "For that reason, I think Roman Abramovich has confidence in my job. I'm sure we will finish in the top four," he said.

Meanwhile, Chelsea hope Alex, who has returned from Brazil with inflammation on his knee, will now return in time for the Champions League tie away to FC Copenhagen on February 22. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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