LONDON, January 4 – Carlo Ancelotti remains convinced his Chelsea side can overcome the loss of their African Nations Cup stars after the holders started the New Year with a crushing 5-0 FA Cup home win over Watford.
And the Chelsea manager reacted to Sunday’s victory here at Stamford Bridge by denying reports of a rift with French forward Florent Malouda.
Ancelotti’s Premier Leaguer leaders crushed their Championship opponents to earn a fourth round tie away to another second-tier side in Preston North End.
The win was secured by two goals from Daniel Sturridge – his first for the club – strikes from Frank Lampard, Malouda and John Eustace’s own-goal.
The performance of Sturridge particularly pleased Ancelotti who asked the 20-year-old to lead the attack in the absence of Didier Drogba, on African Nations duty in Angola with the Ivory Coast, and injured forward Nicolas Anelka.
And the Italian coach believes the morale boost of getting off the mark in only his third start since his pre-season move from Manchester City will provide Sturridge with a major lift.
"It was a good performance and Sturridge played very well," said Ancelotti. "Without Drogba, it was important to have him in good condition. He scored two goals and that’s important for a striker, to score.
"But he deserved that. He played very well for the whole match and ‘stayed’ well.
"It was important for him. It’ll improve his confidence. He has a lot of potential, and great quality, and he can show that on the pitch in January."
Anelka will be fit for the Chelsea’s weekend trip to Hull City and Ancelotti is already thinking about fielding two forwards in the absence of Drogba and Ivory Coast team-mate Salomon Kalou.
"He (Anelka) will be ready for Saturday," Ancelotti confirmed. "He’s been training with the team and will do so again this week. He and Sturridge can play together.
And the manager believes he saw enough signs to suggest Chelsea can also cope with the temporary loss of Ghana’s Michael Essien and Nigeria’s John Obi Mikel.
"I think that we can do a good January, good performances without the African players.
"I had good answers about other players. Juliano Belletti played very well in central midfield. I think we can do good performances without the other African players," Ancelotti explained.
Malouda, meanwhile, revealed he had sought talks with Ancelotti after being left out of the starting line-up in a number of major games this season.
"I spoke with Malouda before the game against Birmingham and explained to him my position," Ancelotti said. "He explained his position.
"For me, that was finished. But there’s no problem. It’s normal that a player wants to play every game. Above all, the important games. For us, for me, Malouda is an important player."
Watford manager Malky Mackay, meanwhile, admitted the gulf in class between the two sides had been vast.
"If we’d started the game the way we started the second-half, it might have been a different game," he said of a match where the visitors were 3-0 down at half-time.
"It’s about learning. There’s the standard if you want to be a top England international. That’s what you’re up against. That was European standard football out there."