Chelsea will face Manchester United next week with "no fear, just passion" captain John Terry said on Wednesday although there will be apprehension from Didier Drogba as to where — and if – he fits into Carlo Ancelotti’s plans.
Drogba did not start Tuesday’s Champions League tie away to FC Copenhagen with the Chelsea manager afforded the excuse that the striker, who is 33 next month, needed to be rested after playing 120 minutes against Everton in the FA Cup last Saturday.
With almost a full week’s rest and preparation before what Terry termed a “must-win” encounter at home to United on Tuesday, then Ancelotti will have all his big-name strikers – Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Fernando Torres – in the same condition.
Torres can expect to start and after his two goals and, more importantly, the convincing way in which he combined with the Spanish striker, Anelka should also play. Terry paid tribute to the forwards. “The two guys who started, showing their pace, playing on people’s shoulders, there’s probably no better in the league,” the central defender said.
“Didier came on and showed the hunger and hopefully this is the start of them all clicking together; the three of them, between them, are so different as well. They are some of the best. To play against them must put fear into defenders.”
Juggling how to keep all three happy – and fitting them into whatever system he wants to play – may well define Ancelotti’s time at Chelsea even more than the Premier League and FA Cup Double he achieved last season.
With the manager remaining under severe pressure – his relief in Denmark was palpable – Chelsea need to find some consistency. That may not come if they have to chop and change their strike-force, which would appear to spell bad news for Drogba.
The Ivorian knows that his time at Chelsea is rapidly drawing to a close and it seems unlikely that he will be at the club at the start of next season.
One complication is that Ancelotti is also unlikely to be there either with Roma still monitoring his future closely following the resignation of Claudio Ranieri and the appointment of temporary coach Vincenzo Montella. Ancelotti is playing his cards close to his chest but has cut a disenchanted figure at times this season when he has also made his unhappiness known.
Nevertheless Ancelotti has already hailed Torres as Chelsea’s “future” while, clearly, Roman Abramovich will expect a return for the £50 million he has committed to buying the striker from Liverpool with minutes on the pitch followed by a flood of goals.
Ancelotti considers that Anelka can play in a number of forward positions and that will count in the Frenchman’s favour. During the 2-0 win at the Parken Stadium there was possibly the start of a quick and effective partnership. Certainly if United are without Rio Ferdinand on Tuesday Ancelotti will want to test their defence with pace probably even more so than power.
“If we want to put in a run and a charge for the Premier League, we must beat Man United,” Terry said. The victory against the Danish champions has acted as a release of tension, to some extent, as well as a boost of confidence despite Copenhagen’s obvious lack of match fitness.
Chelsea have also almost guaranteed themselves passage into the last eight of the Champions League.
Terry is now looking forward to facing the Premier League leaders. “A draw’s no good,” he said. “Being able to put pressure on them would be great. There’s a really small chance [of Chelsea winning the league] but it’s a must-win game. It’s a massive game anyway, like it always is against Man United. They’re playing well, so they’ll probably be confident of coming down and getting something, which will hopefully suit us.
“At times, we see that they can be beaten, they can be got at. They’re certainly not invincible. They’re a very good side but I don’t think anybody should be fearful of them.”
Chelsea sit 12 points behind United and the more pressing concern is finishing in the top four, so ensuring qualification for next season’s Champions League. Terry has already described the prospect of missing out as something he cannot comprehend.
Not that Chelsea have surrendered all hope of being champions. Not in public at least, with Terry recalling the lead that Newcastle United lost to Manchester United in 1994. “It’s been done. Man United did it to Newcastle many years ago,” he said of clawing back those dozen points. “It’s possible and a little bit of pressure . . . if you look at last year as well, the experience we showed last year in a lot of big games in the run-in.”
Terry also said he believed that Chelsea’s experience could be crucial in overhauling Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City to finish in the top four.
“Of course it is,” he said. “We’ve been there, we’ve seen it, we’ve done it, we’ve got the T-shirt.”