Carlo Ancelotti stepped into an uncertain future last night by admitting that he may have made a mistake by fielding Fernando Torres from the start of Chelsea's Champions League quarter-final defeat to Manchester United, which left Roman Abramovich looking a disconsolate figure as his hopes of European success went unfulfilled yet again.
"Maybe [wrong], could be," Ancelotti said of a decision which backfired, leaving Chelsea a goal down on the night and with the momentum firmly against them before they briefly rallied when Torres's second-half replacement, Didier Drogba, scored.
Sir Alex Ferguson rubbed salt into Ancelotti's wounds over the selection of Torres, whose £50m acquisition on Abramovich's wishes the Manchester United manager feels is a reflection of the west London club's "obsession" with European success. "I thought that, having signed Torres for the money they did, they had to play him," Ferguson said. "I wasn't 100 per cent sure but I couldn't see how they could leave Torres out."
Ancelotti rejected Ferguson's claim. "This is not true. I put Fernando in because he has skills and ability that could be good for us," he said. But the radically different positions of the two managers here were crystallised in the contributions of two strikers with a differential of £44m in cost. The £6m Javier Hernandez's 18th goal for United in only his 20th start set up the win, while £50m Torres took his time without a goal at Chelsea to 693 minutes.
Ancelotti has said this week that he will be staying to oversee what looks to be the reconstruction of an ageing Chelsea side whom he admitted across the two legs lacked the aggression of United – whose own fourth Champions League semi-final in five years will probably be against German side Schalke. Last night, Ancelotti seemed less sure. "It's not my decision whether I stay or not here. I haven't spoken with [Roman]," he said. "I'm not concerned. I have to work. I have to try to do my best. I don't know [whether I'll be staying.] It's not the kind of question a manager can answer. It will be difficult [to raise the spirit now] but we have absolutely to reach the top four places to reach the Champions League next year."
Ancelotti had no complaints about the 70th-minute dismissal of Ramires which, with Chelsea already two goals behind on aggregate, left them with a mountain to climb. "I think it was [a red]. Ramires should stay more quiet, more calm. He had had a yellow card already so it was not good for him to have another yellow card. He needed to stay more calm to avoid this."
Ferguson, who dodged the question of whether United have tabled a bid of between £17.5m and £20m for Atletico Madrid's 20-year-old goalkeeper David de Gea, offered a very different countenance, declaring his side had suddenly found a momentum to sweep beyond Schalke – who take a 5-2 first-leg lead into their home tie with Internazionale tonight – and put their historically poor record against German opposition in the past.
"Tell me about [that record]," Ferguson said, with the defeats to Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich in mind. "We can make that change. You can see the momentum of the team at the moment. They are all desperate to play against Manchester City on Saturday. I think we have hit our form, no doubt about that."
Ferguson will be in Gelsenkirchen tonight to see Ralf Rangnick's side's second-leg tie. "Football is strange – but I'd think that Schalke will get through," he said. He also revealed that the injury that left Rio Ferdinand hobbling for a long period of the first half was only temporary and will not keep him out of Saturday's FA Cup semi-final with City.
Atletico chief executive Miguel Angel Gil Marin insisted last night that De Gea had a €25m (£22.5m) release clause in his contract and though his agent was in England, he had no authority from Atletico to negotiate a deal for the player with United chief executive David Gill.