• Chelsea manager not worried by Premier League form
• Difficult night awaits against in-form Bayer Leverkusen
André Villas-Boas spoke of "medium" and "high blocks" as he contemplated how to transform a team toiling in the Premier League into a side capable of securing passage into the knockout phase of the Champions League, though the mention that best summed up his current predicament centred more upon a block of the chopping variety. "When results like this happen, the head of the manager is called for execution," he said. "But I'm not worried. I understand that."
There have in reality been no concerted calls for Chelsea to dismiss a fifth manager in four years, though the Portuguese's gallows humour revealed the paranoia that invariably grips this club and the fragility within his own setup as it endures early teething troubles. This team feels set-upon, almost beleaguered, at present.
It was with apt if grim timing that the Football Association duly confirmed Villas-Boas had been warned as to his future conduct and fined £12,000 for comments made about the referee Chris Foy after last month's defeat to QPR, just as he was preparing to take training at the BayArena on Tuesday night. The Portuguese intends to wait on written reasoning before deciding whether or not to appeal against that sanction, but the fighter in him is unlikely to back down.
This campaign is becoming something of a slog. Throw in the continuing police and FA investigations into John Terry's conduct and recent domestic toils, with three defeats in four league games leaving Manchester City a dot on the horizon in the title race, and the underlying sense of anxiety feels understandable. Life has at least proved more comfortable in Group E of the Champions League and victory at Bayer Leverkusen could secure a place in the knockout phase, though there is an acceptance that, for that to happen, improvement is urgently needed.
The players appear to have recognised as much, with Florent Malouda seeking to shift the emphasis away from the management staff and on to an underachieving squad. "Given how things have gone with different managers, I don't think the solution is about looking at the manager," he said. "We are the ones going out on the pitch and performing, in a good or a bad way. We have all the ingredients at the club right now – the board, the technical staff, the manager and the players – to perform. We've done it in the past.
"It's difficult to explain why it's gone wrong recently, but we were able to compete with the top teams at the start of the season. So there's no reason to panic. We have to take our responsibility on the pitch. Speaking personally, I need to step up my game more. It's not been enough, obviously. I've never blamed a referee or a pitch or the weather to explain a bad performance. I need to do more and improve and I'm fully aware of that. If I tried to explain what has been happening to us in a logical manner, people might think I'm making excuses for losing. And I'm not. I just want to win."
Villas-Boas appears likely to juggle his options towards achieving that much on Wednesday night , though his staunch defence of David Luiz's defensive qualities suggested he could yet be tempted to retain the Brazilian in his back-line. The 24-year-old has featured in all the group games to date but has appeared error-prone too often for comfort. "He'll evolve into one of the best central defenders in the world," said Villas-Boas, who likened David Luiz's development to that of Gerard Piqué since he swapped Manchester United for Barcelona. "David is an extremely good player: he's quick, anticipates well, has amazing technical qualities."
His justification for omitting Alex so often this term – the 29-year-old has played three times in the Premier League – was more baffling. "We have chosen him in a couple of games, specific games or matches that have a different nature, but we have full trust in his abilities as a player," said the manager. Another who has been underused, Nicolas Anelka, was left back at home and is set to leave the club in January as he enters the final six months of his contract. Shanghai Shenhua are the latest team to have declared an interest in the Frenchman, joining clubs in Major League Soccer as suitors, though others, such as Milan, could tempt him to remain in Europe.
Yet, while there may be a sense of relief at confronting European competition again given domestic travails, an awkward evening awaits. Leverkusen were no pushovers at Stamford Bridge in September and have improved since, winning their two home games to date and rising to seventh in the Bundesliga. A real test awaits at the BayArena, with the locals spying their own route into the knockout stage. "But the finances in England are completely different to over here, and Chelsea have a 'world' squad," said the coach, Robin Dutt. "We have to beat the money.
"We have home advantage now but don't forget we put in a good performance in London. We remember that, and we know that Chelsea haven't been doing very well recently. They've dropped points. We have respect for their players, but they're under a certain pressure and I believe my lads can do it in this game. We know it's important for this club in terms of the finances to progress, but also for the players. It's one thing to play in the group stage, but another to get through to the knockout. We see this a special opportunity, at home, to get into the last 16." Chelsea will consider it a chance to get back on track.