Ancelotti: We're back in it
In-form Chelsea have emerged from the international break with a fully fit squad to choose from and Carlo Ancelotti admits his side is now back in the Premier League title race.
Chelsea started the season on fire before a winter slump saw them drop out of the top four but wins over both Manchester clubs last month have Ancelotti retracting his declaration from during their tough period that United's lead was too great.
Ancelotti remained cautious with his appraisal of Chelsea's chances of defending their title, admitting that Manchester United must slip up more than once or twice while the Blues win all of their games, but he hinted the players have an even greater confidence they can complete one of the great comebacks.
"The players believe, and that is good," Ancelotti said. "It means they've got good motivation to play, game by game. Nine points - even if we have a game in hand - is not too easy. They are not too close. But we have a chance. We will have a chance in the future if we concentrate and are ready for the next game. To have a chance we will have to win all the games in the Premier League. That's our aim, to win all nine games.
"United cannot win all nine if we do that, because they still have to play against us. But, even so, if they win seven or eight, they'll win the title and we won't have a chance. It's not in our hands. But, for any team, making a mistake at this stage of the season can be dangerous. Not just us. Three months ago in November or December, it would have felt like a dream to arrive in this situation now. I don't know what we will achieve in the end, but we now have a possibility to fight."
Chelsea also have a Champions League quarter-final against United to play out, starting with Wednesday's first leg. With their turn-around sparked at least partly by the January arrivals of Fernando Torres and David Luiz, it could be argued Chelsea should have spent big in the summer instead but Ancelotti insists it is impossible to say now whether the club got its transfer policy wrong.
"We can't say,'' the Italian said. "We have more power and ability with Torres and Luiz in the squad. They came here at the right moment, Luiz and Torres.''
Although Torres' well-documented failure to score may indicate his impact has been negligible, his mere presence has guarded against the threat of fatigue and injury among Chelsea's rotating strikeforce. Luiz, meanwhile, has been a revelation, and is arguably the catalyst for the run that has seen Chelsea cut United's lead over them from 15 points to nine - with a game in hand and a trip to Old Trafford to come.
Ironically, none of Chelsea's four main strikers have scored since Torres' arrival, with the likes of Luiz instead chipping in with crucial goals in their recent revival. The sequence emboldened Ancelotti - who insisted he would not swap strikers Torres, Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka or Salomon Kalou for anybody - to declare his side were back in the kind of groove that saw them threaten to run away with the championship back in October.
"The team, at this moment, is showing the same ability, the same skill that we were able to use at the start of the season,'' he said. "People started to think everything was wrong here, but this is football. When a team or players have ability, skills, it can happen that at some moments in your career you can't show it.''
Whatever happens in the title run-in, Chelsea would never resort to undermining referees, according to Ancelotti. The Premier League are planning a crackdown on the lack of respect they believe managers and players show officials. Ancelotti admitted his Chelsea squad do not show him much respect when he referees their training matches.
"The worst is (Nicolas) Anelka, who always shouts against the referee,'' he said. "I don't have a yellow card. I just have fines. If you shout against the referee, the player gets fined. Who gets the money? The manager! Who else would? They shout against me. I've earned a lot of money.''