Birmingham 0 Chelsea 0: Ancelotti faces up to the naked truth

26 December 2009 11:41

Carlo Ancelott says he will run around a freezing Chelsea training ground naked if the club sign players in the forthcoming January transfer window.

With resources stretched and confidence waning, it is his team who are looking a little bare and blue right now.

These are challenging days for the manager and his side as they chase the title. Wins elude them, draws mount up and they allow stuttering fellow contenders to stay in the race.

Point of controversy: Benitez pokes home - but his effort was wiped from the slate

Who really wants to be champions? Yesterday's point at St Andrew'sextended their patchy recent form to one win in seven games sincedestroying Arsenal last month and they have just six points from theirlast five Premier League games.

Although creating the better chances - finding Joe Hart in fine formin the home goal - they might even have lost, with Chucho Benitez'stap-in for Birmingham wrongly disallowed for offside.

It is a worrying position for Chelsea at a time when they might have expected to have pushed on.

After tomorrow's home derby against Fulham - for which they have atleast negotiated the availability of the Ivory Coast's Didier Drogbaand Salomon Kalou plus Nigeria's John Obi Mikel - they lose key men tothe Africa Cup of Nations.

This on top of the absence of Nicolas Anelka - though expected to befit next week - to which they can add for a game Florent Malouda, showna second yellow card yesterday in the game's dying embers.

Ancelotti sought to put a brave face on it. 'I am disappointed with the result but not the performance,' he said.

Cheerio: Malouda is given his marching orders

'We have not always played good football lately, but today we did.

'It's not our best moment. Birmingham and Fulham are both in goodcondition now. We may have some problems with players out but I don'tsee big problems. We are halfway through the season and top. This isgood for us.'

By contrast, buoyant Birmingham extended to 10 their remarkable runof unbeaten games that has seen them gatecrash the top half of thetable, and they have form that Chelsea would envy of 17 points fromtheir last seven league games.

Their best crowd of the season let out a mighty cheer at the finalwhistle as illustration of their surprise and joy at where they findthemselves.

'It's a fantastic run,' said City manager Alex McLeish.

'If you had said we would have gone 10 games unbeaten, I'd havebitten your hand off. I run out of superlatives for these guys.'

In hindsight, we might have expected a goalless draw, with the twobest defences in the league now having accumulated 18 clean sheetsbetween them.

What happened to those Boxing Days of yore with their freak, high-scoring results?

Managers probably stopped players enjoying Christmas Day. Not that this was a festive turkey, with plenty of goalmouth action.

Defending can also be enjoyed, and Birmingham certainly seem to.

'Joe Hart has come on a ton,' said McLeish of his goalkeeper, who is on a season's loan from Manchester City.

Frustration: Ancelotti oversaw Chelsea's second successive draw

'He is a conscientious big guy and I know the England coaching staffthink highly of him. I have guys who love defending, heading and makingtackles. They are a real throwback.'

The denial of a City goal came on half-hour courtesy of a linesman's flag.

Stephen Carr's feed into the Chelsea penalty area was headed down byScott Dann to Liam Ridgewell, who turned the ball goal for the livelyBenitez to turn home.

The offside decision ignored a prostrate Drogba, having been bundled over by Petr Cech earlier in the move.

Benitez might have also had a goal in the first minute when BarryFerguson's ball sent him racing past Alex - the Brazilian labouring inonly his second game in a month - but the Ecuador striker shot wide.

Sebastian Larsson also tested Cech with a 25-yard free-kick in thesecond half that the goalkeeper turned round a post. Otherwise, Chelseawere the dominant force.

With City looking to get the ball forward early when they did haveit, they ceded possession regularly to the London side, who promptlymade openings.

In the first half alone, Branislav Ivanovic headed Malouda's cornerinches over the bar. Drogba volleyed Juliano Belletti's cross just wideand Hart made a fine low save from Daniel Sturridge's shot.

Frank Lampard also beat the offside trap but shot too close to Hart,Alex hit the bar with a free-kick from 35 yards and Sturridge turnedwide Drogba's cross just on the break.

The pattern continued after the interval, with Chelsea forcing thepace, being thwarted by some last-ditch defending or their own waywardfinishing.

Belletti turned Lampard's corner wide and Malouda miskicked whenpresented with a sight of goal by substitute Kalou's low cross.

Kalou then had a go himself, Hart, who finished the game with twostaple stiches in his head after diving bravely at Drogba's feet,saving well again one-handed.

It all begins to carry the eerie echoes of this time last season which Ancelotti may not want to hear.

After a promising start, Luiz Felipe Scolari stumbled similarly and was out of a job in the new year.

Guus Hiddink is again in the wings, this time his Russia teamhaving no World Cup fixtures to prepare for. For Chelsea and theirmanager, a naked moment of truth is approaching.

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Source: Daily_Mail