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Alan Hansen on Chelsea's problems

Carlo Ancelotti
Ancelotti's team have lost three of their last four Premier League games

Alan Hansen
Alan Hansen
BBC Sport football expert

Chelsea's defeat at Birmingham City - their third Premier League defeat in four games - and the unconvincing win against MSK Zilina in the Champions League underlined their growing problems on the pitch and talk of discontent off it.

While the loss to Birmingham was hardly the performance of a team in crisis, and the Blues are now through to the last 16 of the Champions League, this indifferent sequence would have been worrying for manager Carlo Ancelotti, underlying as it did the lack of strength in depth in a squad that used to be renowned for it.

Ancelotti has also had to contend with the shock sacking of his trusted assistant Ray Wilkins, something which has clearly troubled him despite his insistence this week that he has no intention of resigning.

The timing and manner of Ray's dismissal were both odd. Chelsea won the domestic double last season and were top of the table this term and Ancelotti publicly acknowledged Ray's importance, so to reveal his contract would not be renewed, and then to tell him to leave immediately, was strange.

Ancelotti did not appear delighted by it but he has stressed he is happy at Chelsea and simply carrying on with his job.

Harry Redknapp rattled a few cages by suggesting Spurs could win the Premier League after their win at Arsenal and I can see why he said it because he has the strongest squad in the division

Alan Hansen

I don't know Ray too well, but I know he was liked and respected throughout the game and players know he has been there, seen it and done it.

He also seemed to have forged a good relationship with Ancelotti. Judging by their body language in the dug-out, they were always side-by-side and in conversation.

The dip in results since he left may be complete coincidence, but it is clear plenty of the players were hit hard by what happened, and how it happened so suddenly.

On the field, any manager who has enjoyed a prolonged period of success such as Sir Alex Ferguson, or Bob Paisley and Brian Clough in the 70s and 80s, accepts that getting to the top is the easy bit, the hard part is to stay there.

Chelsea have enjoyed a fantastic period of success, including last season's Premier League and FA Cup double, but they have not improved their squad significantly and the weaknesses have been exposed recently.

Owner Roman Abramovich has tightened the belt at Chelsea, which he needed to do, but the trick for all teams who want to stay on top is that you should always try to improve every position when you get the chance, irrespective of the player, his reputation or his position.

When I played at Liverpool every player, whether it was myself, Kenny Dalglish or any member of the squad, knew the management would always improve when they could.

It did not mean those in the team were going to be replaced, but it meant the squad was freshened up, you increased competition for places and you increased strength in depth.

I am not sure Chelsea have done that and the alarm bells are ringing because I think this is a long-term problem for them.

John Terry (left) and Frank Lampard (right)
Chelsea have been without key pair Terry and Lampard due to injury

Chelsea travel to Newcastle on Sunday to face a side who have been a mixed bag at home, but thrashings of Aston Villa and Sunderland on Tyneside as well as wins at Everton and Arsenal confirm they will present a real test.

And it will be an examination of a Chelsea squad that I feel still has question marks against its overall strength.

When things are going really well you don't miss anybody, but when things get tough this is when the absences are felt and Chelsea have missed the likes of midfielder Frank Lampard and, of course, captain John Terry in recent weeks.

Lampard is vital. He has not just been playing every minute of every game for years, but his goals are crucial. When, as Chelsea did at Birmingham, they run out of steam and ideas he is the sort of player who can get you something to rescue a point or even snatch a win.

Ancelotti would like to be in a position where you replace quality with quality, but if you take the recent home defeat against Sunderland as an example, Chelsea's central defence was an accident waiting to happen.

Terry and Alex were missing, so into their places in the centre came Branislav Ivanovic and Paulo Ferreira, who is a right-back by trade and not the most solid defensively anyway.

In the summer, Chelsea sold Ricardo Carvalho, which meant the tried and trusted partnership with Terry was broken up. He was not replaced with a player of similar quality so we had Alex, who had been third in the pecking order, moving up into second place and then first when Terry was injured.

In days gone by Chelsea could field two incredibly strong teams, but recent events show this is no longer the case.

As I said, Chelsea have pulled in the purse strings but this does not help at the end of the season when you are chasing the Premier League and Champions League.

606: DEBATE
bluespensioner

It should be stressed that they are still top of the table and plenty of people's favourites to win the title, so we should place all the crisis talk in context, but I do believe they have got problems with their squad.

At the start of the season I looked at their squad and, when assessing their title chances, said: "Maybe."

I continue to be unconvinced by them and feel Manchester United have a sensationally good opportunity to win the Premier League as they remain unbeaten without even playing that well.

Harry Redknapp rattled a few cages by suggesting Spurs could win the Premier League after their win at Arsenal and I can see why he said it because he has the strongest squad in the division.

If you asked me "will they win it?" I would say they have a chance, although I still think Chelsea and Manchester United are the serious contenders - but Harry has great strength in depth at his disposal.

If you look at the Spurs first team, left-back would be a problem for me with Benoit Assou Ekotto. William Gallas is good, although you might prefer Ledley King or Michael Dawson alongside him, while I am still not 100% sold on the keeper Heurelho Gomes.

So defensively they might have difficulties, but in midfield and attack they have options to spare. They have got pace, ability, guile, goals - a terrific side.

Chelsea and United are not as good as they were and Spurs came from two down to win at Arsenal, so I can certainly see why Redknapp feels optimistic about their chances.

Alan Hansen was talking to BBC Sport's Phil McNulty



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see also
Newcastle 1-1 Chelsea
28 Nov 10 |  Premier League
Carlo plays it cool
22 Nov 10 |  Chelsea
Blame players for losses - Drogba
24 Nov 10 |  Chelsea
Chelsea 2-1 MSK Zilina
23 Nov 10 |  Europe
Ancelotti rubbishes quit rumours
22 Nov 10 |  Chelsea
Redknapp talks up Spurs title bid
20 Nov 10 |  Premier League
Arsenal 2-3 Tottenham
20 Nov 10 |  Premier League
Birmingham 1-0 Chelsea
20 Nov 10 |  Premier League
Ancelotti defiant despite defeat
20 Nov 10 |  Chelsea
Wilkins resolves Chelsea dispute
20 Nov 10 |  Chelsea
Scolari bemoans Chelsea culture
20 Nov 10 |  Chelsea
Chelsea 0-3 Sunderland
14 Nov 10 |  Premier League
How to watch Match of the Day
09 Aug 11 |  Match of the Day


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