Newcastle: Carlo Ancelotti has reinforced Florent Malouda’s claim that Chelsea’s recent loss of form means they no longer carry a fear factor into games.
Ancelotti’s side face Newcastle United at St James’ Park having lost three of their last four Premier League games, scoring just one goal in the process.
The midweek Champions League victory over MSK Zilina brought relief following last weekend’s defeat at Birmingham City but the recent problems on the pitch have been mirrored by off-field concerns following the dismissal of assistant manager Ray Wilkins.
Ancelotti’s own future has also been subject to growing speculation.
And the Italian manager accepts the assessment of Malouda, the Chelsea midfielder, who believes the change in fortunes at Stamford Bridge means opposition sides are less intimidated by the prospect of facing the reigning champions.
“At the beginning of the season, when you’re winning 6-0, you can put pressure on the team,” Ancelotti said.
“Now a lot of teams have improved their confidence to play us. This is normal. We’ve had some problems playing against particular teams. I agree with him.”
Ancelotti has made it clear he believes his side’s problems lie in front of goal where his side have proved less ruthless when it comes to converting chances.
Midfielder John Mikel Obi, however, believes the recent run of injuries and suspensions that have seen John Terry, Frank Lampard, Michael Essien, Alex and Didier Drogba sidelined has stretched the squad too far.
“Everyone who knows Chelsea knows the reason why this is happening - we are short of players,” said Obi.
“We have so many players injured or suspended, so I think people know why this is happening, but at the same time there are no excuses for the players who are playing.
“We have to take responsibility for results and start to win these games.”
Terry and Lampard are both still injured while Essien serves the final game of a three-match suspension.
Newcastle have suspension problems too as they bid to beat Chelsea on home soil for the first time in four-and-a-half years, with three players banned for the visit of the Premier League Champions.
Centre-backs Mike Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini start three-game suspensions, meaning Steven Taylor and veteran former Arsenal defender Sol Campbell are on standby for their first Premier League starts of the season.
Midfielder Joey Barton serves the last of his three-match ban, with Ivory Coast international Cheik Tiote returning from a one-game suspension in place of Alan Smith.
Newcastle beat Chelsea 4-3 in a thrilling League Cup tie at Stamford Bridge back in September, but after an encouraging start to the season following promotion from the Championship, a disappointing return of one point from their last three games sees them in danger of being sucked into the relegation battle.
Manager Chris Hughton admits that with a relatively small squad, Newcastle can’t afford to keep shooting themselves in the foot by losing players to suspension for lengthy spells.
“To lose the two centre-halves for three games is a big, big blow but we just have to get on with it,” he said.
“This is where players have to be responsible for their actions and they have to accept their bans. Discipline is something we remind players about all the time. We can’t afford to lose any more players.
“Chelsea was already going to be a tough game but it’s even more difficult now because we’ve lost three first-choice players. These are the sort of things sent to try you over the course of a season, and it’s about how we respond.”