• Manager admits most of his team not playing their best
• Champions League is Chelsea's last chance for silverware
A defiant Carlo Ancelotti has refused to countenance the possibility of his ailing Chelsea side enduring Champions League humiliation to FC Copenhagen on Tuesday. Elimination from the FA Cup on Saturday intensified the pressure on the Italian, who insisted that he would not consider his own position even if Chelsea's season continued to unravel.
Defeat to Everton on penalties on Saturday was the London club's first in the FA Cup since 2008 and, with Manchester United now a distant 12 points clear of the title holders, has left the Champions League as Chelsea's only remaining route to silverware. Ancelotti and his side were due to fly to Denmark on Monday before the first leg of their European tie with the stark admission that only two or three of his players are playing near their best, but insistent that a loss to Danish opponents is unthinkable.
"Chelsea will not go out against Copenhagen," he said. "Playing this game gives us the right kind of pressure. We have 180 minutes coming up to win this tie. We have to maintain our levels, stay together and work hard together. Maybe this game will be a good moment to get a result and, obviously, keep our season alive. We are out of the FA Cup, and we haven't done well in the Premier League: to win the Champions League will not be easy, but it brings great motivation for all of us.
"As for me, I am not here to consider my own position. It is the owner who has to consider my position. I just have to work and try my best. The pressure is football – you have to be able to manage at moments like this." Ancelotti has a year to run on his contract at Stamford Bridge beyond the end of this season, with no talks scheduled until summer at the earliest over extending his stay. Both parties are apparently at ease over that arrangement. Asked whether he would ever walk away from the job, he replied: "No."
Regardless, the repercussions of elimination to the Danes would threaten his position. Chelsea already face a stern test to finish in the top four this year – they trail Tottenham Hotspur by two points after only five wins in 16 league matches – but losing over two legs to FC Copenhagen would represent humiliation. Stale Solbakken's side have not played a competitive fixture since their last group game in early December and have never reached this stage of the knockout phase before. To be jettisoned by such unfancied opponents could yet make Ancelotti's position untenable, whether immediately or at the end of the season.
Ancelotti was painfully realistic in conceding his team's confidence was fragile at best. Asked how many of his players other than the goalkeeper Petr Cech were performing near their peak, the manager replied: "At this moment? [Branislav] Ivanovic, who is playing consistently. And [John] Terry. A couple of others are not, at this moment, playing with 100% fitness."
That would appear to refer to the likes of Frank Lampard, Chelsea's scorer against Everton, and Didier Drogba, but may also apply to Fernando Torres. The £50m forward, who has shown only flashes of his best in his two games for the club to date, is eligible for the Champions League and will start at the Parken Stadium with the visitors hopeful his period of adjustment into a new team is now over.
Ancelotti needs the forward to find his form immediately. The manager's achievement in winning the Premier League and FA Cup in his first season in charge, together with the reality that Roman Abramovich had personally pursued his appointment from Milan having missed out in the summer of 2008, had offered him some level of security in his position. Indeed, the owner's lavish £71.6m outlay on Torres and David Luiz – who is cup-tied in Europe – last month had reinforced the sense that the manager would be given time to rejuvenate his squad.
Yet a fourth-place finish and qualification for the Champions League, with its financial implications, still represents the minimum requirement expected of any Chelsea manager and, at present, inconsistent form is threatening that pursuit. Torres's attempt to settle is just another aspect betraying the fact that, both on the pitch and behind the scenes, this feels like a club in a state of flux.
While the manager's long-term future at Stamford Bridge remains the focus, Hamburg have confirmed Frank Arnesen will become their director of football in the summer when, as planned, he leaves Chelsea at the end of his contract. The Premier League club's chief scout Lee Congerton is to accompany the Dane to the Bundesliga club as technical director. Hans Gillhaus is leaving to join the Dutch team Feyenoord as its technical director and the French scout Guy Hillion is to become the sporting director at Nantes. Chelsea is to implement a radical overhaul of its scouting department.