Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti believes his side are still on track to win the Premier League title despite their alarming mid-season wobble.
The Blues have won just one of their last five league games, and one in seven in all competitions, following Saturday’s goalless draw at in-form Birmingham, with defending champions Manchester United chasing them in second place.
Ancelotti’s side face a tough derby against local rivals Fulham on Monday under pressure to take three points before the departure of three key players to the African Nations Cup, but the Italian coach insists his team’s current form is not "a big problem".
Article continues below ...
"It’s not our best moment; one victory in seven is not good for us," he admitted. "I don’t see a big problem though. I think we have some problems, because we have two players out who are very good in Nicolas Anelka and Michael Essien and we don’t always play well. But not against Birmingham – in this match I think we played good football.
"Our aim is to win the title and we are at the top of the table at the moment. This was the half-way point in the season and we’re top so that’s good for us."
As for whether Chelsea can hold on and be top by the time the season ends in May, Ancelotti added: "We hope to be.
"If we do a good job and work hard like we have until now, then I think we can win it.
"It’s normal, I think. In our mind it is impossible to win the title in December. You have to win the title in May and you have to be ready in May because I think it will be a long race right until the end of the season."
A difficult afternoon for Chelsea at Birmingham – during which the hosts could have snatched a win had Christian Benitez’s first-half effort not harshly been disallowed for offside – was compounded by the late dismissal of Florent Malouda for a second booking.
Ancelotti remains unconcerned about the subsequent suspension, however, despite also being without another attacker in Anelka.
"We will put other players in on Monday against Fulham, it’s not a problem," he said. "There’s no Malouda but there are other players." Ancelotti believes his side’s festive fixtures may be harder than meets the eye.
"Birmingham and Fulham, at this moment, are in very good condition and I expect a tough game on Monday for sure, just like today," he continued. "Anelka and Essien are important players for us because they have a lot of quality but they are out and we have to find other solutions.
"I think we have a very good squad and we will find a different solution."
While it is traditional for managers to complain of fixture congestion at this time of year, Ancelotti – who is currently enjoying his first English winter – has no real problem with the games coming thick and fast. He added: "It is not easy to prepare for a game every two or three days but it is not only our problem, it is a problem for every team. So we are all in the same situation."
The Blues chief has been boosted by the unexpected availability of Ivory Coast duo Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou and Nigeria midfielder John Obi Mikel for Monday’s match after the trio’s respective national teams allowed them to play before travelling to the African Nations Cup.
"Drogba and Kalou will also play against Fulham and join their national team on December 29," revealed Ancelotti.
"We asked their national team and the coach and he agreed with us that they could stay.
"Anelka cannot play against Fulham but he will play the first game in the new year."
As well as the suspended Malouda and injured Anelka (muscular) and Essien (hamstring), Ancelotti will be without Jose Bosingwa (knee) again while Deco is unlikely to be fit.