x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Ancelotti is making Chelsea riches count

Manchester City can take guidance from London side on how to galvanise players as the League leaders play as a unit under the Italian.

Manager Carlo Ancelotti's achievement, like Jose Mourinho's, is to forge a unit that is the sum of its expensive components.
Manager Carlo Ancelotti's achievement, like Jose Mourinho's, is to forge a unit that is the sum of its expensive components.

Separated by 200 miles and six league positions, the former with a wonderful winning habit and the latter with an unwanted sequences of draws, Chelsea and Manchester City are nonetheless well placed to know exactly how each other feels.

As the moneyed challengers to the game's aristocrats, it is their lot to be damned with faint praise. The implication is that their success comes from wealth alone, while there is a sense of schadenfreude when either slips up. Not that Chelsea have stumbled often this season. In one sense, neither have City: a solitary defeat in 17 competitive games means every other club have lost more often. Yet whereas Mark Hughes's team have become accustomed to earning one point, Carlo Ancelotti's invariably collect all three.

And this is where the criticism that resources inevitably produces results is most misguided: hefty transfer fees and huge salaries alone do not galvanise Didier Drogba, bring the best from John Terry or produce an environment where such distinguished players such as Michael Ballack, Florent Malouda and Deco both accept squad rotation and exert a positive influence within their constraints. Ancelotti's achievement, like Jose Mourinho's, is to give a team a coherent identity, to forge a unit that is the sum of its expensive components. If his players see Chelsea as a cash cow or a consolation prize for failing to secure a move to a more traditional power, that is not apparent in their performances. The challenge for City is to emulate tonight's visitors in every respect.

Such has been the standards Chelsea have set, especially in Sunday's 3-0 win over Arsenal, that one of his disciples has even taken the Special One's name. Ricardo Carvalho said: "We are an improvement even from that first year here under Mourinho." As they were the epitome of frugality under the Portuguese, that enhancement is largely in the final third. It also provides, perhaps, the most intriguing battle at the City of Manchester Stadium today. Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, Chelsea's intimidating hulk and the man long termed Le Sulk, form the most fearsome attacking duo in England.

City's expensive additions in defence, Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott, are yet to dovetail as effectively. There is a constancy to Hughes - others may have already introduced Vincent Kompany at the expense of one of the summer signings - but tonight provides the most stringent examination of the new-look partnership. Then there is the hypothetical element to the equation: how would Terry, targeted by City, fare against his teammates had he traded west London for east Manchester?

As it is, Wayne Bridge was the only defender to venture north. The left back said: "I still talk to the lads at Chelsea but I came here to win things and to get into the top four. I still think we are on course; we have the team to do it. They are flying but have to drop points at some stage so hopefully it will be against us." If a forward line and a resolute back line form two of Chelsea's advantages, a third comes in the centre of the pitch. Ancelotti's midfield diamond means his charges can outnumber and outclass opponents. City prospered playing 4-4-2 against Arsenal in Wednesday's Carling Cup win, and there is a case for reintroducing a man whose style of play is reminiscent of one of Chelsea's recent greats.

Nigel de Jong is City's answer to Claude Makelele, the efficient, unobtrusive holding player in midfield who could patrol the area where Frank Lampard and Joe Cole are at their happiest. The convergence of Chelsea players in the centre of the pitch could free space on the flanks, where City, in the shape of Craig Bellamy and Shaun Wright-Phillips, were at their most penetrative against Arsenal. If Chelsea's advantage lies with their power, City's best hope may be provided by their pace.

They also possess a wild-card in reserve. Robinho almost joined Chelsea last summer and instead debuted against them. While he scored then, it is City's only goal in their last eight meetings, all won by the Londoners. It is yet another statistic to favour a side who are getting their facts right. Chelsea have beaten each of the other members of the established Big Four. Now the most ambitious club outside that cartel await. It is a contest with a twist. City's seven successive Premier League draws constitutes a record; Chelsea are the only team in all four divisions of English football without one. Something has to give.

@Email:rjolly@thenational.ae Man City v Chelsea, KO 9.30pm, Showsports 1 & 2