'How does Carlo Ancelotti feel about his team?', I imagine you're all asking. The answer? 'Bad.' The Chelsea manager, presumably in a fairly sour mood after a penalty shootout loss against Everton that led some of the more reactionary elements of the fanbase calling for his head, said that he could only name two players available for Copenhagen (i.e. not David Luiz) who were actually playing well right now. Two!
[Players doing well at the] moment? [Branislav] Ivanovic, who is playing consistently. [John] Terry. A couple are not 100 per cent fit. We have lost confidence in our play and sometimes it is difficult to move on.
-Carlo Ancelotti, Chelsea manager. Source: Mail.
Two is not a big number, especially when they're your centreback pairing. He might have a point, though - only John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic have been consistently playing well over the last few games, and everyone else has essentially been drifting in and out of recent matches. The Mail, unsurprisingly, has simply chosen to focus on how the poor performers had the temerity to smile after a match - I assume the writer thinks committing sepukku after a penalty shootout loss is the appropriate action - and in doing so they miss an interesting element of the quote.
A couple are not 100 percent fit.
How can you tell the difference between hurt and demotivated or lazy? I've played a lot of football and I've played a lot of football with a balky knee, and I can tell you that when it's not 100% moving is much, much harder. You have to take care to favour it, which limits your dribbling, passing, tackling, and shooting options, you can't run nearly as often, and control often feels pretty unnatural, resulting in a weird first touch with both feet. Does that sound familiar to anyone?
Florent Malouda hasn't looked right since injuring himself against Blackburn away. Michael Essien has been amazingly inconsistent since his toe injury. Where people are seeing laziness, or a lack of caring, I'm seeing players trying to perform despite not being at full fitness. Would it really be a surprise to anyone if Malouda's right ankle was causing him major problems turning and running right now? It's not like this would be the first major screwup by Chelsea's medical staff (Yossi Benayoun played the first few games of the season with a partially ruptured Achilles tendon)
This is an aging squad and we should expect injuries and fatigue to have been setting in by now, especially after so many of its players featured in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa over the summer. When Chelsea were fit and fresh, they were a dominant force. Further into the season, they've collapsed. Carlo Ancelotti has mentioned that he's planning on implementing a squad rotation policy to give his players a rest, but that's difficult when he doesn't seem to have much faith in the younger players and seemingly half of his senior side is ruled out hurt at any given time.
There's a certain culture in sports that for some reason thinks playing while hurt is a noble thing to do, that it shows courage and a manly heart. I think this is nonsense. Chelsea players playing hurt does the team no good at all. If Essien is nursing a knock, John Obi Mikel, Ramires, or Josh McEachran should be playing in his place. If Malouda's got a dodgy ankle, that's the mission Salomon Kalou* was born for.
*Or Gael Kakuta/Daniel Sturridge, if they were still around.
Obviously I'm reading a lot into one throwaway line from Carlo here, probably because it fits my previous beliefs (confirmation bias is fun). But he's planning on having his non-100%-fit players take the field on Tuesday in Copenhagen, maybe he should re-evaluate the situation and have the members of the team actually fit to play a football match be the ones starting. At the very least Chelsea could give some of their tired legs a rest.