Carlo Ancelotti has bemoaned the fact that Chelsea must play twice in 48 hours next week but does not share his captain John Terry’s concerns over the depth of the squad as his team attempt to recover momentum in their title defence.
Chelsea visit Arsenal for a potentially pivotal fixture on Monday before welcoming Bolton Wanderers to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, with Owen Coyle’s side to benefit from an extra day’s preparation for that game after playing on Boxing Day. With matches against Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers to follow in the new year, Ancelotti will have to rotate his squad, with his team having won only once in seven league games to slump from top to fourth in the table.
“All we can do is think about doing our best to win against Arsenal, and then against Bolton,” said Ancelotti. “I want to say something about the Bolton game because we won’t have the possibility to recover. We’ll have two days, compared to Bolton who, unfortunately, play on the 26th. We play on the 27th. That’s not a good thing, to have one day less to recover.” Asked whether he was angered by the schedule, he added: “Yes. I’m not happy about that.”
The run of four games in 10 days will test the depth of Chelsea’s squad, which was stripped of Ricardo Carvalho, Joe Cole, Michael Ballack, Juliano Belletti and Deco in last summer’s cull. Frank Lampard will start his first game since August on Monday and Terry, José Bosingwa, Didier Drogba and Michael Essien are fit again after their own injury problems.
Yet Terry admitted today that the manager’s options were more limited than in previous seasons, with the club’s hierarchy having put the emphasis on tapping into the younger players.
“We’ve missed some key players at key times and it is a case of keeping everyone fit now over the Christmas period, where we have two games in three days,” said Terry. “In the past, we had a big squad and could rotate and put other players in. We don’t have that now we have quite a young squad and it’s a time for everyone to stay together like we always will. Once we’ve turned that corner, we can move on from there and wait for other teams to slip up, which they will do.”
Ancelotti will have the option to strengthen his squad next month if he deems it necessary. “I think we had a problem because we had a lot of players injured all at the same time,” the manager said. “For this reason, we had a bad moment. When you are not in a good moment, it’s very difficult to put in the young players because you don’t want to put responsibility on their shoulders. But now it’s different. The squad is good, the players are in good condition, without injury, and we can play this game well. At our best.”They will take a impressive recent record against Arsenal to the Emirates. Chelsea have won the past five meetings in all competitions, with Drogba constantly flourishing in the fixture. The Ivorian has scored 13 times in as many appearances against Arsenal, never finishing on the losing side – Chelsea have failed to win the three derbies he has missed – and Ancelotti hopes that record will be maintained.
“I think they are a little bit afraid of the performance of Drogba, because he’s done very well against them,” he said. “But this is not the reason that will decide the game. If Drogba plays at his best, we’ll have more opportunity to win. We don’t want the gap to widen between us and Manchester United, so it’s important we obtain a good result in Monday’s match.
“Arsenal have fantastic ability and are able to play fantastic football. Maybe they concede something defensively, so we have to use our ability to find the right space to create difficulty in their defensive line. But the fact that we have had two weeks off [following the postponement of last Sunday’s game against Manchester United] has been an advantage. We have trained well and improved our condition. Now we are ready to play. We’ve moved on from our bad moment and we’re ready to come back and fight for the title.”