Blues need to show united front against Red Devils

March 1, 2011

A stuttering Chelsea side that looks increasingly desperate to just finish the season faces the Premier League leaders Manchester United Tuesday in what could be a defining moment for both.

Nick Webster takes a look at Manchester United while over here, we examine the latest foibles at Stamford Bridge - and what the future may hold for the Blues.

Once, back in the heady days of September, Chelsea were running away with the Premier League title. They were scoring at will, and winning with such élan that even the most jaded observers were ready to hand them the crown. Today, the Blues are scrambling just to retain a slot in next year’s Champions League while drowning in red ink. Even in a Premier League season that has seen plenty of reversals, this one is arguably the biggest.

The man who has presided over the sinking ship seems to be heading for the exit. Manager Carlo Ancelotti looks a beaten man, eager just to get the games over with. It doesn’t help that each week seems to gift the tabloids with new and sordid questions to pepper the manager with: in the run-up to this game, Ancelotti had to say he had never considered suspending Ashley Cole. Why? Cole apparently shot an intern in the side with a .22 air rifle, a bit of immature horseplay that shows how undisciplined the Chelsea team can be. Ancelotti then had to deny he had lost control of the squad. Few believe him.

The irony is that the Blues’ wounds are largely self-inflicted. Every team struggles with injury and clubhouse drama, but only dumb teams get rid of the guys behind the scenes who do the dirty work. In Chelsea’s case, that was long-time assistant Ray Wilkins, inexplicably sacked in November. It’s become obvious that the former England international was the one truly keeping the wolves at bay. Now, Ancelotti stalks the sidelines alone, his slumped posture showing just how beleaguered he truly his.

There is no doubt that the team needs a rebuild. The question is: Can Chelsea buy their way out of this latest crisis? They haven’t shown much wisdom there of late, either: the recent $80m signing of Fernando Torres looks set to go down as one of the biggest all-time busts of the winter transfer window. Adding to the Blues’ woes, the hottest Chelsea player isn’t on their roster: Daniel Sturrudge is making waves at Bolton, and the team has to be kicking themselves for allowing the youngster to go out on loan.

However this story plays out, a cleanout is coming. Smart money has Nicolas Anelka, Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda, Yuri Zhirkov, Jon Obi Mikel and Paulo Ferreira all heading for the exit at the end of the year. But the problems are so deep, that players who normally would be spared from speculation are on this year's menu. Tellingly, even Frank Lampard and John Terry could be axed. The former is a guy who was noticeably missed when injured; the latter, a defender whose career seems in tatters.

Terry, of course, remains almost delusional in his optimism, telling the press that Chelsea can still challenge for the title. While Manchester United won’t be looking past them, it’s very revealing that Sir Alex Ferguson thought it wise to bluntly say the Blues "have no chance" of winning the Premiership this season. Psychological gamesmanship? Maybe - or maybe it’s just the truth.

Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclay's Premier League.