Carlo Ancelotti has insisted Chelsea’s record-breaking signing of Fernando Torres was not to blame for the end of the Blues’ mini-revival.
Article continues below ...
The champions appeared to have put their worst run in the league for almost 15 years behind them at the start of 2011, winning three games in a row to climb back into the Champions League spots and spark suggestions they could make a late comeback in the title race.
But the capture of £50million man Torres has co-incided with a winless – and scoreless – two matches that has all but killed off the Blues’ hopes of retaining their crown and has seen them slip back to fifth in the table.
Torres flopped on his debut against former club Liverpool and was arguably even worse at Fulham on Monday night.
But Ancelotti was adamant that the Spain striker’s arrival had not been disruptive, saying: "It is not the fault of Fernando, obviously.
"I think that he needs to have time.
"In my opinion, he played well for 60 minutes against Fulham. He had two or three opportunities.
"He didn’t score but he will score, obviously."
With only 12 league games remaining for Chelsea to overhaul Tottenham or Manchester City and with both remaining cup competitions purely knockout affairs, is is questionable how much time Torres can be afforded.
"He needs to have time, but playing, to improve his combination with the other players," Ancelotti said.
"It will take time playing with us."
Torres will miss out on that time on Saturday when Chelsea host Everton in their FA Cup fourth-round replay as the Spaniard is cup-tied.
Drogba will instead return to lead the line and will have a point to prove after being axed at Craven Cottage.
Ancelotti said: "Didier had a very good reaction during the week, he trained well without problem, with motivation.
"He wants to play a good game tomorrow."
Insisting Drogba was not a special case, he added: "For me, every player is important, is big.
"Maybe there isn’t a player as Drogba, who’s scored 40 goals.
"(Paulo) Ferreira didn’t score 40 goals last year.
"But, for me, it is very difficult to leave him out because he is a professional, he worked hard every day."
Tomorrow’s cup tie and Tuesday night’s Champions League last-16 first leg at FC Copenhagen could provide a welcome distraction for Chelsea from their league travails.
But the possible postponement of two of their games means they could find themselves eight points behind Tottenham and 10 behind City by the time they next play in the league.
Ancelotti was unconcerned, saying: "At the end, they will play 38 games and we have to play 38 games.
"We want to work to arrive quickly in the first four places."
Frank Lampard admitted yesterday it would be a "disaster" if Chelsea finished outside the top four.
His manager was less dramatic, saying: "The table in the Premier League is not good but we have the possibility to improve."
Ancelotti claimed he would not rest players tomorrow with Tuesday’s game in mind and he may be boosted by the return of Yury Zhirkov, who is back in the squad after missing the last three months with a calf problem.
Yossi Benayoun is also running again and is expected back before the end of the season.
The Israeli will hope to play a part in what could be a historic FA Cup hat-trick for Chelsea.
Having won every tie since his arrival in England a year and a half ago, Ancelotti was understandably not keen on the proposed changes to the competition’s format, which include seedings, midweek matches and the scrapping of replays.
He said: "I don’t like. I like this competition, I like how it is, because I think that it’s exciting to play, to have a place where there is a draw.
"To put the game during the week, it’s possible that it could lose the importance of the competition."