Ancelotti expects festive cheer for gritty Chelsea
LONDON: Carlo Ancelotti believes Chelsea's hard-fought 1-1 draw against West Ham will prove the springboard for a successful run over Christmas.
Ancelotti's side moved four points clear of second placed Manchester United ahead of the busy festive schedule thanks to Frank Lampard's controversial penalty at Upton Park on Sunday.
Once again the Blues were below their best and they trailed to Alessandro Diamanti's first half penalty, but former Hammers midfielder Lampard equalised when referee Mike Dean and one of his assistants ruled that Matthew Upson's clean challenge on Daniel Sturridge was worthy of a spot-kick.
It took Lampard three attempts to finally score the penalty after Dean chalked off his previous two successfully converted efforts for encroachment, but the England star held his nerve and Chelsea emerged unscathed from a stirring London derby.
While Ancelotti conceded Chelsea had wasted a chance to take advantage of United's shock defeat at Fulham, the Italian - whose side have now won just once in six matches - is convinced they will move further ahead at the top in the next fortnight.
"This period is not easy, every three days we have to play well with a lot of pressure on the games. It is not easy to prepare well. Now we have one week to prepare I think we will improve," he said.
"It is not our best moment but it is not so bad. With this draw we have one more point, we are four ahead of second place. This is good.
"We have four points more than Manchester United and we can have a good Christmas."
Ancelotti's optimism was at odds with Chelsea's erractic display.
They started brightly enough, then lost their momentum as Scott Parker and Mark Noble won the midfield battle with tireless harrying of Lampard and Michael Ballack.
Only Dean's decision to accept a linesman's advice that Upson should be penalised for his tackle on Sturridge prevented Chelsea suffering an embarrassing defeat.
Even then they were lucky to escape after Ricardo Carvalho clearly shoved Guillermo Franco at a corner in the closing stages, while Petr Cech made a fine save to deny Herita Ilunga.
"We didn't play a good match. The first half was not good although the second half was better," Ancelotti said.
"We met a strong team, who put a lot of pressure on midfield. It was a tough game."
Ancelotti's praise for West Ham will have pleased Hammers boss Gianfranco Zola, who was sold by the Italian to Chelsea when they worked together at Parma.
But Zola was more concerned with berating the officials for the penalty decision that denied his side the chance to climb out of the relegation zone.
"The referee got it right in the first place, then the linesman put his flag up and the referee changed his mind," Zola said.
"His first impression was the right one. Pity he did not stay with that. The players were disappointed. The linesman put the flag up and that's why he gave it.
"The referee was better positioned than the linesman. He was closer to the action."
Zola had no complaints with his players as they produced the kind of committed, intelligent performance that made a mockery of their lowly position.
Three successive defeats had pushed the Hammers into 19th place but Zola believes his side will get out of trouble if they can reproduce this kind of display on a regular basis.
He is less certain about his old club's title hopes however.
"I don't think Chelsea is in the best moment right now," Zola added. "They have got what it takes to win the title, but it will depend on the form of the top teams.
"It is very much an open championship at the top and the bottom, that makes it interesting."