LONDON, December 29 – Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti is adamant his team will cope with the loss of Didier Drogba while the striker competes in the African Nations Cup.
The Ivory Coast international was given special permission to delay his flight to Angola, along with compatriot and Chelsea colleague Salomon Kalou, and the decision proved vital for his club as he spearheaded their 2-1 win over west London rivals Fulham.
Drogba headed in from Branislav Ivanovic’s cross in the second half at Stamford Bridge here on Monday to cancel out Zoltan Gera’s fourth minute opener for Fulham.
The goal took Drogba’s tally to 19 for the season in all competitions, underlining his importance to the English Premier League leaders, who could be without the forward for the whole of the January if the Ivory Coast go all the way in Angola.
However, Ancelotti maintains he will make do without Drogba as Chelsea, now five points clear of reigning champions Manchester United, look to retain their grip on top spot.
"Didier has scored 19 goals but without him, this year, we’ve done very well," Ancelotti said.
"We won three games in the Champions League without him. We can do the same in the Premiership.
"In some matches we can change the system," the Italian added. "We’ve played the diamond in every match, but we can use our wingers in some matches.
"Florent Malouda or Daniel Sturridge can play. It depends on the match.
Fulham defender Chris Smalling deflected the ball into his own net 15 minutes from time to seal Chelsea’s win.
Victory ended a difficult month for Ancelotti, with Chelsea losing to Manchester City and managing mere draws with West Ham, Everton and Birmingham.
However, Ancelotti said Chelsea’s last game of 2009 heralded a new dawn for the Blues.
"It wasn’t a good December for us, but it’s finished. We have to look forward to January," said the former AC Milan boss. "We can do better and maintain our position at the top of the table.
"It was not easy to change this game, 1-0 down, but there was a great determination and a great willingness from the team and I am very happy.
"We played together and Fulham are not an easy team. They are very well organised defensively and to score two goals against them is very good for us."
Fulham manager Roy Hodgson felt the defeat was hard on his side, as they had defended valiantly for long periods of the match.
But the loss of Ghana defender John Pantsil, who limped off with a knee injury in the second half, proved too much of a burden for Fulham.
The injury is not only a blow to Fulham, who are arranging a scan for the player, but to Ghana, who had hoped to have the full back available for their African Nations Cup campaign.
"He (Pantsil) is injured – he’s twisted his knee," Hodgson confirmed.
"Whether he goes (to the African Nations Cup) will depend upon what the scan shows," Hodgson added.
"If he’s out for more than a month, he’ll not be going," the Englishman insisted. "At this moment his knee is sufficiently bad that we won’t be putting him on an aeroplane.
"We’re not trying to keep him out of the African Cup of Nations," Hodgson stressed. "I’m more concerned that he’s not going to miss the rest of the (English) season, which is going to be a danger when you twist your knee."
Hodgson, reflecting on the match, said: "It was a competitive game. We took the lead early on which gave us something to hold on to which, subconsciously, changes your thinking.
"The disappointment for my side is that such a hard working performance – not only defending against a rampant Chelsea team – didn’t give the players any reward.
"I’d have liked at least a point to reward the quality and work they put in," he added.