Didier Drogba has conceded that Chelsea are suffering from a degree of internal disharmony but has backed André Villas-Boas to unify his team before Tuesday's crucial match against Valencia. To guarantee progression to the knockout stages of the Champions League Villas-Boas needs his Chelsea players to put their concerns about his methods to one side and draw 0-0 or win at Stamford Bridge.
"You have to remember it's the manager's first season in the Premier League, it's not easy for him and it isn't easy for the players or the club," said Drogba after scoring the opening goal in Chelsea's slightly flattering 3-0 win at Newcastle United on Saturday. "But everything is coming together for the manager. He can deal with any pressure. You don't rise to his level in coaching if you are not strong."
Another of Chelsea's senior players, Frank Lampard, was angry at being substituted at St James' Park while Villas-Boas has accepted transfer requests from Nicolas Anelka and Alex. The French striker could join the Montreal Impact, a new Major League Soccer franchise, in January. Drogba said that the rest of the squad must stick together as Manchester City follow Valencia to Stamford Bridge next Monday.
"Yes we've been in a difficult moment but you have to stick together and make sure that, when we are on the pitch, we are all pulling in the same direction. That's what we are doing right now and it's great to see. Against Newcastle we looked more like the Chelsea of old, doing the simple things well. You create your own luck sometimes but that only comes from the whole team being in a really positive state of mind. We'll have more bad moments but, if we stay together, good things will come along."
Aware that this will almost certainly be his final season at Stamford Bridge, Drogba appears keen to depart on a high. "We face Valencia with confidence," he said. "It's these type of games you just love as a player. When I was a kid I used to watch huge matches like this, dreaming that I would one day play in them.
"It's going to be very exciting. Yes, the pressure is on us, we normally don't have too many problems in the group stages but this is why people love football. It's going to be tough, certainly a different situation from what we're used to, but in a way it will be just like some of the huge Champions League games we've had in recent years, the matches we played against Liverpool in the semi-finals, matches with so much tension around when it gets to kick-off. We've had challenges before and this is a new one. I'm ready to attack it."
Anelka and Alex have effectively been placed in quarantine by Villas-Boas, who has adopted the arguably high-risk strategy of ordering them to train separately from the rest of the squad. "We've decided to assign different training times for Anelka and Alex," said Villas-Boas. "Anelka and Alex are top professionals, this is just a decision we've made."
Anelka has been a victim of Daniel Sturridge's exciting attacking emergence and he acknowledged a parting of the ways was inevitable. "I've known for a little while where I'll be on 2 January," said Anelka. "The club, which is going through a difficult time, has decided to work with Chelsea's players of the future and, as I am a good professional, I've accepted this."
A Champions League exit may not be met with similar grace in the Stamford Bridge boardroom and Villas-Boas accepts he is approaching a possible watershed moment. "We've had a bad run of results recently that we want to invert and we have a major game on Tuesday," he said. "We have to be up to our best. It will require a major physicial effort but, if we go past Valencia, we will set the right emotional stimulus."