By Rob Stewart
Former Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli has backed Blues boss Andre Villas-Boas to come good at Stamford Bridge despite the shadow of Jose Mourinho looming large over him ahead of Sunday's clash with Barclays Premier League champions Manchester United.
Widespread reports have linked Real Madrid boss Mourinho with a return to the Premier League - and Chelsea, in particular - this summer, prompting Villas-Boas to admit he felt "the pressure of Mourinho" hanging over him ahead of Sunday's visit of champions United to west London.
But Vialli has urged Blues owner Roman Abramovich and the club's supporters to be patient with the Portuguese coach despite a disappointing start to the season that has seen his old club effectively ruled out of the Premier League title race.
And the Italian insists Villas-Boas's long-term planning and approach that has seen him criticised in some quarters so far this season will ultimately bear fruit for the next four or five seasons.
"I think he is a very talented manager and he has been more successful in three of four years than 99 per cent of managers are in 30 or 40 years which shows the guy is very good at his job," Vialli told Goal.com. "I rate him highly.
"He is facing a very difficult challenge because Chelsea are trying to change and make the team young, to think about the future and build the foundations for another successful four or five years before they have to make another change.
"This season they are lacking continuity and consistency," he added. "They go two steps forward and one step back - but that is absolutely normal when you are making changes and you are starting a new project.
"Sometimes they look solid at the back and they look as though they find it difficult to score goals and sometimes they score goals but they concede too many and that is the sign of a team going through a phase of change. But he is doing a good job and he just needs time to complete his project."
Keeping the faith | Former Blues boss Vialli rates Villas-Boas highly
A disappointing run of results - three wins in the last nine league games since beating Manchester City - has seen Chelsea fall away from the top three of Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham and left them in fourth spot, just three points clear of the chasing pack led by Newcastle followed by Liverpool and Arsenal.
And for all his support of Villas-Boas and his methods, Vialli - who himself took over as player-manager at Chelsea when he was just 33 - concedes that the Portuguese simply cannot afford for the west Londoners to finish outside of the top four and the Champions League qualifying positions.
"He is in charge of doing that [rebuilding the Chelsea squad] but at the same time he has to keep winning games to ensure Champions League qualification," said Vialli. "That is not the easiest of tasks.
"I wish Chelsea were still title contenders but to be realistic they are 12 points behind the leaders and are behind three clubs which makes challenging for the title virtually impossible."
And Vialli, who inspired Chelsea to a 5-0 win over Manchester United during his reign as manager, believes Sunday's clash with the defending champions could prove a key match in Villas-Boas's rebuilding, with the visitors vulnerable ahead of their trip to Stamford Bridge.
"Chelsea and Manchester United have arguably been the best two sides of the last ten years in the Premier League," the former Juventus and Sampdoria striker added. "And for the first few games of the season too United were incredible, absolutely outstanding. The quality they were expressing was unbelievable. It was such a pleasure to watch them.
"Now they don't look as fluent as they did in the past, especially in the last 30 yards of the pitch, and they are also lacking important players like Darren Fletcher and Tom Cleverley, so they are short of numbers in the engine room. Also at the back they have had to make so many changes that every week Sir Alex has to change the back four and the goalkeeper has not been performing consistently.
"[So] neither of these two are scared of each other, both sides will really play knowing they can beat each other. You can be guaranteed entertainment."
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