PARIS, France, February 21 – Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas and Inter Milan coach Claudio Ranieri, himself a former Stamford Bridge manager, will be looking to the Champions League this week to boost their chances of keeping their jobs.
Villas-Boas has been described as a ‘dead man walking’ by Ranieri and he should know — he was one of several high-profile managers to fall victim to the whims of Chelsea’s billionaire owner Roman Abramovich.
Ranieri is probably even under more threat at Inter as his side have lost five of their last six games, including being knocked out of the Italian Cup of which they were the holders, and face a testing trip to French side Marseille on Wednesday.
Villas-Boas arguably faces the tougher midweek challenge as Chelsea travel to Serie A outfit Napoli — who ousted Inter from the Italian Cup — on Tuesday on the back of a dire 1-1 home draw with Championship side Birmingham in the FA Cup.
However, the indefatigable Portuguese handler, faced with an increasing band of critics as well as a split dressing room, insists his job is safe.
Asked after the Birmingham clash if the outcome of the Napoli tie would have any bearing on his future he said: “No. No, not at all.”
“It’s not up to me to decide that, you have to ask that question to the right person.”
Villas-Boas accepts that the Napoli game is a tough task, coming so soon after the Birmingham draw and a Premier League defeat by Everton the preceding weekend which leaves them battling to assure Champions League football next season.
“The situation is we don’t have enough good results for us to feel a bit strong,” said Villas-Boas, who is anxiously awaiting fitness tests on John Terry and fellow England defender Ashley Cole.
“But we are still in these competitions (FA Cup and Champions League) and will continue to push for them. It will be a difficult game against Napoli but we have shown in the group games we can overcome adversity.”
Napoli, who saw off the challenge of big-spending Manchester City in their group, go into the match in great spirits having beaten Fiorentina 3-0 away on Friday to move above Inter in the table.
Uruguayan star Edinson Cavani who scored twice, believes a repeat of that would be enough against Chelsea.
“Having seen this game, this is the right path and the right attitude that we must have against Chelsea,” said Cavani.
“It will be tough but we’re in good shape. Nothing is sure in football and that’s why we don’t have an advantage, anything can happen. What matters is playing with the same attitude.”
Ranieri, whose side have conceded 15 goals and scored just four in their last six matches, admits that Inter have hit another rough patch just when the business end of the season was approaching.
“We’re not playing to our potential and we’re going through a particular moment, we must take responsibility,” said Ranieri.
“There’s bitterness, this (Friday’s 3-0 home loss to Bologna) is the third (defeat in a row). In several games the first chance they get, they score. We must grit our teeth, we’re playing with 10kg on our backs.”
His Marseille counterpart Didier Deschamps admitted that his side’s 1-1 draw against mid-table Valenciennes was not terrific preparation.
“This is an enormous match coming up for us,” said Deschamps, who captained Marseille to Champions League glory in 1993.
“Of course we believe we can beat them. However, now that they don’t have a chance of winning Serie A they will be all that more determined to win this.”
The other two second round matches see Real Madrid travel to Moscow to take on CSKA on Tuesday and Swiss outsiders Basel – who progressed at the expense of Manchester United from the group stage – host Bayern Munich on Wednesday.