Luiz-Felipe Scolari’s job at Chelsea looks more assured after his side avoided an embarrassing FA Cup exit at Southend but the future for Didier Drogba appears increasingly uncertain.
Scolari left striker Drogba out of his squad for the tie against a team who play in the third tier of English football and saw his replacement Nicolas Anelka score in a 4-1 victory.
It could prove a crucial result in Chelsea’s season, not least because the club’s board were due to meet in London on Thursday with the team’s recent poor form at the top of their agenda.
A 3-0 defeat at Manchester United is still causing reverberations for the Premier League side and when Southend went 1-0 up through their captain Adam Barrett it seemed Scolari would do well to survive the evening.
The fact that he did so was down to his players’ improved performance in the final hour as Michael Ballack, Salomon Kalou, Anelka and Frank Lampard completed a routine victory, earning a result which assistant manager Ray Wilkins believes will prove a turning point in the club’s season and ease the pressure on Scolari.
“I think the important thing is the way the players feel about the situation,” Wilkins said. “They demonstrated they were disappointed with what happened at the weekend. They were well beaten, they accept that fact, but they were determined to put it right.
“With the way we’ve played today we’ve proven the spirit and character we have got in the club. It was a great result for us.
“It’s a good confidence booster. A lot of people will say it was only against Southend but you have to come and win these games.”
What the result means for Drogba, however, remains to be seen. Chelsea have denied rumours the Ivorian was involved in a furious row with Scolari after being dropped for the fixture but there have also been reports the forward tried, unsuccessfully, to engineer a move back to his former club Marseille.
Wilkins was hardly convincing in his defence of the player.
He said: “It was just a selection policy of Felipe’s that he didn’t play. We’ve got a big squad with some exceptional players and he felt Nicolas was the man to take to the field tonight.
“Whether Didier will be included at the weekend we don’t know but he’s certainly a very valuable member of our staff.
“I don’t know whether Felipe has met with Didier at all but it doesn’t look like they are at breaking point to me, not from what I’ve seen on the training ground.”
It’s clear even from those comments that some questions about the so-called crisis at Chelsea remain unanswered and their performance at Southend, although successful, also included some worrying details for Scolari to digest.
The oppenents were a team currently sitting half-way down League One but Chelsea were made to sweat in the first half as their recent poor run of form continued.
Having seen his side concede so many goals from set pieces recently Scolari announced he would be changing to a zonal marking system in a bid to solve the problem. But that gamble looked like a horrible mistake when Barrett headed home unchallenged from a 16th minute corner.
Thankfully for Scolari his team found an escape clause with an assured display in the end; Ballack half-volleyed an equaliser on the stroke of half-time, Kalou drilled home after an hour, Anelka fired in a classic 78th minute finish and Lampard curled home a late fourth.
Skipper John Terry admitted the players had been stung by Scolari’s pre-match criticism.
Terry said: “A lot of the criticism was fair, we haven’t been performing well enough or showing enough fight.
“I think we needed to come out tonight and it was the perfect opportunity for us. It wasn’t the best of starts for us but we upped the tempo and fully deserved the win. We have a big game coming up at the weekend at home to Stoke now and we need to show the same spirit.”
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