by Ifreke Inyang
As Carlo Ancelotti trudged towards the tunnel at Old Trafford after the final whistle on Sunday, he cut the uncharacteristic figure of a conventional grumpy old man. The body language of the defeated Chelsea manager, who had just seen his side lose 2-1 to Premier League champions-elect Manchester United, resembled more that of Victor Meldrew than an amicable Italian. Ancelotti had discovered that his team was nowhere near good enough, aging, and short on creativity and imagination. As he took a look around the Theatre of Dreams in the manner of a condemned man, he knew he was likely to pay the price.
Chelsea had the chance to go top of the table on Sunday as they travelled to Old Trafford in high spirits, but their hopes were dashed as within 36 seconds Javier Hernandez broke the deadlock. The Blues were never in the game and went two down as Nemanja Vidic headed home, and although they pulled one back through Frank Lampard, they seem to run out of ideas as the game petered out. This ensured that United now only need one point to secure a record number of league triumphs.
It didn’t just start last Sunday. It was one calamity which had been waiting in the wings. This season has been an underachievement, but it is worth remembering that Ancelotti has been undone in the leagues by the genius that is Sir Alex Ferguson. Chelsea’s problems, as has often been the case, have also been self-inflicted. The dire mid-season slump – one win in nine matches between mid-November’s 3-0 home humiliation to Sunderland and early-January’s 1-0 defeat at Wolves, which will ultimately cost the club successive league titles – came in the immediate aftermath of the shock sacking of assistant boss Ray Wilkins.
This was a decision from the club’s owner, Roman Abramovich, and had huge repercussions in terms of unsettling and undermining Ancelotti. The same can be said of the signing of Fernando Torres. Wilkins said on Sunday that the Spaniard had been a long-term target, but whether the pressure of accommodating a £50million arrival in January was Ancelotti’s decision is another matter. So if Ancelotti follows Claudio Ranieri, Jose Mourinho, Avram Grant, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Guus Hiddink out of Chelsea, who will be the next target? Hiddink, who left Stamford Bridge on his own terms, still has an excellent relationship with Abramovich and, although the Dutchman is not thought to be keen on returning, he is understood to be backing compatriot Marco van Basten.
The manhunt for a new coach shouldn’t have been on the agenda. The high profile game was the perfect occasion for the Italian to prove himself as a master tactician. The decision to bow to Kalou’s pressure and start him in such a huge game was flawed. I have nothing against the Ivorian but I just don’t think he is the sort of player that will have any effect on games like that. More comical was his decision to substitute David Luiz for his supposed mistake for the first goal. He also pulled out Mikel Obi, who did a great job in the first half, in my opinion. In doing these, he was torn between Torres and Anelka when he could have had both. As it has been rumoured in certain quarters, this was his make or mar game. And so, we expect that the camel’s back has been broken.
But the question is what’s next for Chelsea? A new boss? A summer overhaul? Where do last season’s Double winners go after what – barring a miraculous turnaround – will be a trophyless 2010/11 campaign?