MANCHESTER, December 4- Carlo Ancelotti's claim that the clash with Manchester City has always been Chelsea’s main priority this week has inevitably increased the pressure on the Italian's side ahead of the trip to Eastlands.
Ancelotti was criticised for his approach to the midweek League Cup quarter-final defeat to Blackburn which recorded the first meaningful failure on the Blues manager’s Stamford Bridge CV.
The former AC Milan coach’s decision to make three half-time substitutions proved costly when Salomon Kalou was injured in the second period, leaving Chelsea to endure extra-time with just 10 men before losing in a penalty shoot-out.
Ancelotti shrugged off suggestions he had under-estimated Rovers by insisting that his mind had been on the City clash ever since Chelsea reinforced their claims as title favourites with a 3-0 defeat of Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium that left them five points clear at the top of the table.
He said: "This week our priority was the game against Arsenal and the game against Manchester City."
Now Ancelotti will be looking for his side to demonstrate mental strength and avoid dropping crucial league points by recovering from their cup exit.
And with City having followed suit by inflicting a second successive defeat of Arsene Wenger’s side in their League Cup quarter-final, the Chelsea boss knows his side can expect a testing examination this weekend.
Kalou’s two-week absence comes as a blow but it will be a much-changed Chelsea line-up that faces City with John Terry, Frank Lampard, Petr Cech and Didier Drogba among the heavyweights certain to return.
City have fallen out of the top four because of a run of seven successive draws but Lampard believes that they have the capability if challenging the established order at the head of the Premier League table.
"They’ve got the players to challenge for a Champions League place," said the midfielder. "If you spend 128 million then you should be challenging for the top four.
"They are a good team, and that (recent results) will only spur them to try to show what they are against us. I think attacking-wise they’ve got fantastic options all over the park.
"It makes no odds about the last seven draws they’ve had. I’ve seen them play at Man United this season, when they deserved to get a result out of the game.
"The players they have going forward – if they turn it on, it’ll be a very tough game."
City may have their League Cup semi-final with neighbours Manchester United to look forward to but winger Shaun Wright-Phillips insists now is the time for Mark Hughes’s side to re-focus on the Premier League.
The Eastlands club are three points adrift of the Champions League places and after this game, have a relatively easy run of games in the run-up to the new year, with matches against Bolton, Tottenham, Sunderland, Stoke and Wolves.
Former Chelsea winger Wright-Phillips, 28, feels that the 3-0 quarter-final victory over Arsenal — City’s second win since the start of October — was the ideal preparation for a meeting with the league leaders.
And the England international is adamant that City will not be distracted by the prospect of their first major semi-final since 1981.
He said: "It means so much to the players when the supporters are behind us and I am sure they can’t wait for January to come around.
"What we have to do now is let them talk and banter about the semi-final and the derby matches and concentrate on the league.
"Christmas is coming and there are a lot of points to play for and we want as many of them as we can get. We have also got an FA Cup tie before then.
"What the win has done has put us in the right frame of mind for the visit of Chelsea at the weekend."
Wright-Phillips is hoping to overcome an ankle knock sustained against Arsenal and Bulgarian winger Martin Petrov is likely to miss out once again with a knee injury.