With tumbleweed blowing across English grounds this week, as the Champions League quartet battled for the competition’s finale, emphasis will lie solely on the domestic front. The title race, now narrowed to just a point after Paul Scholes’ late header, will possibly take another monumental shift this weekend should Chelsea fail to win in successive matches.
The Blues may be under the cosh from the start should Stoke gather impetus from a possible Manchester United victory on the Saturday. The Potters may be stricken to a mid-table finish but the prospect of heavily impacting on the title race will surely provide some motivation for the Staffordshire club. Tony Pulis’ side will undoubtedly bring their dogged approach to the Bridge, with a strict back-line protected by a defensive-minded duo in midfield. Their tireless wingers will also help protect the Stoke full-backs from the imminent pressure of Florent Malouda and Joe Cole. Although Cole has failed to make much impact since his return to the first team he has been building up his match practice and, as with all good players, class is permanent and form is surely looming. The England hopeful could be under the watchful eye of Fabio Capello again this weekend, as the Head Coach looks to a solid 23-man squad for the World Cup. Cole’s nervous and tentative play of late will not pay dividends when his fellow compatriots are dazzling the stage, with James Milner and David Bentley putting in energetic shifts in recent outings.
The defeat to Spurs was a blow to Carlo Ancelotti’s hopes of a Premier League title in his first year of English management, however the race is still firmly in the former AC Milan Coach’s hands. The man at the helm has had an illustrious career with many successful seasons in Serie A, despite finishing runner-up on a number of occasions, which is many journalists are tipping him to slip to second yet again. However, many in the game hail him as one of the best managers of all time with Capello one of many admirers. Carletto, as he was known in his playing days, is often ambushed for one season in particular. In 2006, the club were chasing an eight-point deficit due to the match-fixing scandal and the pre-season planning was massively disrupted as the club swam in a sea of uncertainty. Unknowing whether they’d be competing in the Champions League or competing in the second division, signings were delayed until eventually only a few could be made. They also had to withdraw players from their holidays after finding out at short notice they were in the qualifying rounds of the Champions League. Other seasons, the club were again criticised for letting the league slip away. Although they had successful cup campaigns, their ageing squad – much like that at Chelsea – was unable to compete for the seasons duration.
So, with this in mind, it can be seen Ancelotti’s time at Milan had its peaks and troughs, however these troughs were largely due to off-the-field turbulence. The manager may have a negativity about his play at times, but when Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard are firing on all cylinders the Blues are near unstoppable. Given the time over the summer to regenerate a deteriorating team, Ancelotti could be just starting his tenure at the Bridge. His time in Milan saw some of the most fluent and entertaining football with Rui Costa, Rivaldo, Andrea Pirlo and, later, the likes of Kaka and Alexandre Pato. Similarities can be drawn to recent pre-Tottenham performances from the Blues with Malouda, Cole and Lampard producing some excellent displays.
More of this needs to be seen this weekend as the league draws to its close, a tough game with Stoke could prove Chelsea’s mettle to fight for the title. In the fixture last season the hosts required two late goals to overcome a 1-0 deficit to Stoke, with Juliano Belletti an unlikely hero on that day. A similar comeback could provide the momentum to take Chelsea forth to the title. But Ancelotti will be taking each day as it comes, with a victory not the end of the story as another difficult away game to Liverpool is quickly being scouted as the new title-decider after the latest fixtures nullified the result of the recent Chelsea – United game.
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