Chelsea FC pulled off one of the biggest transfers of all time recently, when they took Fernando Torres from Liverpool for £50 million. The move was seen by many as Roman Abramovich flexing his financial might to not only get the Pensioners back in the title race, but also as a way of bringing the Champions League to Stamford Bridge.
However, while that may have been the Russian Oligarch's main aim, what he has achieved is a further erosion of the fragile foundation under Carlo Ancelotti's feet.
As the league table stands, Chelsea has 44 points and is a full 10 points behind the leaders, Manchester United, with just 13 games to go. Considering that the Red Devils have only lost one game from the previous 25, it looks highly unlikely that Alex Ferguson would allow his team to lose four games from their remaining fixtures to leave the Blues with a chance at retaining their title.
This, of course, means that Chelsea's only real aim for the rest of the season is the trophy that Roman Abramovich craves so much...the Champions League.
Last season, as Chelsea was eliminated from the Champions League by Jose Mourinho and Inter Milan, an incandescent Roman Abramovich issued an ultimatum to Carlo Ancelotti:
Win the league, or else.
At the time, a Chelsea insider told ESPN "[Ancelotti's future] now depends on the league. He will need to win the league to survive."
So, it is not beyond the realms of imagination to think that the Chelsea owner has issued a similar demand about the Champions League this time around.
The insider also told Soccernet that Abramovich wanted to bring Fernando Torres to the club next season, despite other areas of the team needing renewal.
"Of course Roman wants Torres, but he will not pay even £50 million for him, and Liverpool will be asking more than that."
“If the situation stays the same at Liverpool, then they will have to consider selling Torres, but you will not be able to get him for £50 million.
"How much? No one knows yet, as Liverpool has yet to decide to sell him."
Just last week, Roman Abramovich fulfilled one of his footballing ambitions when he bought the services of Fernando Torres for the £50 million mentioned last March.
With that, there are a number of things to be taken from the purchase of the Spanish striker.
The foremost is Torres was an Abramovich signing, and Carlo Ancelotti was not consulted on the addition of another striker. With that in mind, you can see how Abramovich sees himself as the manager of the club and that Ancelotti is little more than a coach with no say in the matter.
If Ancelotti had been consulted, then he would surely have looked at bringing some much needed creativity into midfield. This is an area where Chelsea are weakest, as the defeat to Liverpool showed.
The Reds used an unconventional 3-6-1 or 5-3-1-1, depending upon your point of view, to stifle Chelsea’s powerhouse midfield. With the Blues' lack of creativity, Kenny Dalglish’s side basically strangled the life out of the defending champions.
The Liverpool defeat, albeit with Torres on the team, demonstrated all the main reasons Chelsea’s season has come undone and why they will probably finish the season trophy-less.
They are an incredibly cohesive unit and every move has the look of a well-worked training-ground set piece. If those do not work, they lack a creative player in the midfield who can find teammates in dangerous areas of the pitch.
While the Pensioners midfield is their greatest asset, it is also a liability against teams that are well organised and who, most importantly, pack midfield.
It speaks volumes that Liverpool’s caretaker manager chose to take Chelsea on where they are physically strongest, because he was full in the knowledge that once that area of the pitch was won, Chelsea had no other routes to victory.
In essence, the supply lines to Drogba and Torres were cut off completely.
Even if Carlo Ancelotti had acted more quickly to bring on Malouda and Kalou, the game was up, as both of those players are wide forwards rather than wide midfielders. Thus, the personnel up front would make no difference to the outcome of the game, as midfield was where the game needed to be changed.
This immediately points to the two areas Ancelotti would have strengthened before even looking at bringing in another centre forward, particularly one with such a poor track record at finding a partner.
Chelsea needs a creative central midfielder and a wide midfielder.
The defeat to Liverpool effectively ended Chelsea’s slim title hopes, and now Carlo Ancelotti’s job is dependent upon winning the Champions League.
The Italian can rightly feel aggrieved with Abramovich. Even though he has done a superb job since joining the club from AC Milan, winning the double in his first year, that hasn’t stopped Abramovich from seemingly undermining his head coach at every opportunity.
The first example was last March when he told Ancelotti he would be sacked if he did not deliver the league title. This effectively sent the message out to the players that, with anything less than a 100 percent success rate, they would have a new boss. Every player worth his salt knows that this demand is impossible over the fullness of time.
The next step was the disgraceful sacking of Ray Wilkins.
Regardless of what Wilkins’ role was at the club and whether Abramovich thought he was needed or not, Wilkins was Ancelotti’s man. By unceremoniously sacking him in the manner that he did, Abramovich sent another two messages out to the team:
1. Roman Abramovich is the main man at Chelsea, not Carlo Ancelotti.
2. Ancelotti is in an uncertain position and is not important enough to consult on the team’s direction, never mind the club’s direction.
Shortly after Wilkins’ removal, Ancelotti was inflicted with Michael Emanalo, a coach with very little experience of football at the highest level.
His installation as Ancelotti’s right-hand man is seen with distrust by all involved in the first-team set-up. Emanalo is thought of as little more than a spy for Roman Abramovich, and Ancelotti has done his best to distance himself from the new appointee.
This also means Ancelotti is now completely alone at Stamford Bridge, with no one to turn to for advice or to brainstorm with.
It is in this atmosphere that Carlo Ancelotti approached the League Managers Association in late November, to seek advice on his standing and employment rights at Chelsea.
He spoke on the matter and offered a frank opinion on where he stands at the club and how his role is completely different than the one enjoyed by Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
He said, "You compare me with Ferguson, it's a different position. Ferguson has total control of the team. I have just technical direction. Full-stop.”
This was a clear indication that Ancelotti has no say or power at the club and that every signing is chosen for him, regardless of how he feels about the matter.
Now, the latest step in the constant disruption of Carlo Ancelotti has seen Roman Abramovich buy Fernando Torres.
There can be little doubt that the Chelsea manager would not have chosen Fernando Torres as a player to bring in.
The ex-Liverpool striker has a fearsome reputation in front of goal, but his link-up play outside the box is average and his past history has shown that he is a striker who plays best by himself, in a counter-attacking team where he can come onto the ball rather than playing with his back to goal.
If anything, Ancelotti would have tried to buy Andy Carroll, as the ex-Newcastle No. 9 is as close a player to a young Didier Drogba as you’re going to find.
He would have fit in at Chelsea seamlessly.
It is clear for all to see that Carlo Ancelotti is living on borrowed time at Chelsea. The ironic twist in all of this is that the newest catalyst of erosion, Torres, is also the only man who can save his job.
Given Chelsea’s and Torres’ form over the last couple of months, it seems highly unlikely that things will click in time to win Ancelotti and Abramovich the Champions League.
First up is FC Copenhagen in two weeks time. The Danish club are seen by many as the weakest team in the Last 16, but the short time frame leaves Ancelotti struggling for answers.
The likeliest result is that Chelsea will beat FC Copenhagen, with or without Fernando Torres. However, the real test of the new partnership with Drogba and Anelka is likely to happen in April in the quarterfinal, just eight games away.
To go any further, the Blues will be hoping for another good draw. But, considering that the waiting teams are likely to include Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United, amongst others, their chances won’t be good.
Looking at their current form and the type of player that Torres is, it is very hard to see that particular partnership working, and it looks increasingly likely that Chelsea will not win the Champions League this year.
Should that happen, Roman Abramovich is almost certain to send Carlo Ancelotti back to Italy, with AS Roma as his likeliest destination.
The irony for Carlo Ancelotti is that the last signing by Roman Abramovich, Fernando Torres, said, “If you don’t play in the Champions League, it is as if you don’t exist.”
He’ll find that, as far as Abramovich is concerned, that quote is very true indeed.