Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Ranieri Is Haunted by the Ghosts; Aston Villa 2 Chelsea 1

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Ranieri Is Haunted by the Ghosts; Aston Villa 2 Chelsea 1

Article excerpt

Byline: MATT HUGHES

ROMAN ABRAMOVICH is enduring his first football crisis. The Russian billionaire has made two fruitless trips in his private plane from Moscow in the space of five days, returning with nothing but disappointment. And he doesn't even get to collect the Air miles.

As a well respected coach with two decades of experience in three different countries, Claudio Ranieri is better equipped to deal with the fickle nature of footballing fortune, but there are aspects of recent performances that will be troubling him.

In losing two successive games for the first time since March, Chelsea have created few goal-scoring opportunities against very ordinary teams in Bolton and Aston Villa, part of a longer-term trend that has seen them score only eight goals in the last eight matches.

A superb defensive record has helped mask that weakness, but the fact remains that when Chelsea do concede they struggle to win games.

Ranieri will also be aware of the ghosts of Christmas past. This time last year his unfancied side were involved in a three-pronged title race with Arsenal and Manchester United, but a disappointing haul of one point from nine games over the festive period saw them lose ground they could not recover. History could yet repeat itself, and Saturday's little local difficulty against Fulham is a big game indeed.

Last night Ranieri was in no mood to analyse the reasons behind his side's recent stutter, but was man enough to admit that Villa deserved their place in the semi-finals of the Carling Cup.

He said: "Of course I am extremely disappointed. I wanted to win this competition. The first half was not good and the second half was better, but Aston Villa played better than us and deserved to win.

"We had a few good counterattacks but Villa were the stronger team. We worked hard, we did some good things and Thomas Sorensen made some good saves. …

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