Ancelotti prays for more Anelka magic

LONDON: Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti will be praying for another dose of Champions League magic from Nicolas Anelka as the Blues bid to erase the memory of their recent domestic difficulties.

Ancelotti's side reeled off eight successive wins at the start of the season to widespread acclaim, but the wheels have come off Chelsea's bandwagon after defeats at Wigan and Aston Villa.

The west London club's 2-1 loss at Villa on Saturday wasn't as shocking as the Wigan embarrassment, but it cost Chelsea their place on top of the Premier League and raised questions about Ancelotti's defence, whose shoddy marking was exposed at two set-pieces.

Suddenly Chelsea don't look quite so all-conquering, but they have a chance to get back on track in Wednesday's European clash against Atletico Madrid at Stamford Bridge.

Victories over Porto and Apoel Nicosia have put Ancelotti's team top of Group D and three points against Atletico would all but secure their place in the knockout stages.

If Chelsea do get another win it would be little surprise if the decisive blow is delivered by France striker Anelka.

The former Real Madrid star has scored both of the Blues' match-winning goals in the Champions League this season and his form in Europe has helped to overcome the absence of suspended Ivory Coast forward Didier Drogba.

Drogba was banned for three games by UEFA following his rant at referee Tom Henning Ovrebo following their controversial semi-final defeat against Barcelona last season.

But Anelka has thrived in Drogba's absence and he claims playing alongside adaptable forwards like Nwankwo Kanu and Dennis Bergkamp during his time at Arsenal has been instrumental in his success at leading the attack.

"You know when you play with big players like Bergkamp or Kanu that you will learn - I have learned from a lot of people that I've played with and tried to take a little bit from all of them," Anelka said.

"I am a striker but not at the top of the team and I'm still in the centre of the pitch - a bit like the position Dennis Bergkamp used to play.

"He used to play for Arsenal like that when I was there, not like a striker, but not a number 10 or a midfield player either.

"You play between the number 10 position and the centre-forward position, that's nine-and-a-half.

"In the position I play you need to know before you get the ball where your team-mates are and try to be clever because in modern football doing something clever is advantageous.

"I'm not sure if too many other players like playing in this position but I enjoy it a lot.

"You have to be very clever now. It is not enough just to be a very good footballer or very athletic, because if you do not have the intelligence to make the right decisions on the pitch, I don't think you will make it at the highest level."

Atletico, who travel to England on the back of a dismal 3-0 defeat at Osasuna, are languishing in the lower reaches of La Liga as well as sitting bottom of their European group.

Under-pressure boss Abel Resino needs a big performance from former Manchester United Diego Forlan - last season's European golden boot winner.

Forlan said: "Things haven't been going so well and I think we have been playing with a bit of anxiety.

"But I've got confidence in the squad we have and I think we can turn it around soon enough."