x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

It is a case of identity for Ancelotti

There is a certain symmetry to it. Carlo Ancelotti begins his Premier League career against Luiz Felipe Scolari's final opponents, Hull City, this afternoon.

There is a certain symmetry to it. Carlo Ancelotti begins his Premier League career against Luiz Felipe Scolari's final opponents, Hull City, this afternoon. As the Brazilian did a year ago, the Italian arrives with high expectations and a huge job.

A sterile stalemate with Phil Brown's side brought Scolari's reign to a swift conclusion in February. Given Hull's difficultw summer, few would anticipate a repeat. But, for all the skill with which the best qualified locum in world football, Guus Hiddink, performed his temporary task, comparisons with Scolari are more instructive for Chelsea's fifth manager in three years. Twelve months on, the focus has changed from World Cup winner to an expert in European football, but the demands are the same. One word occurred frequently in an interview Ancelotti gave recently, and it is the crux of the issue: identity.

It is a perennial issue for the nouveau riche as they struggle to define themselves by anything other than their wealth. In Chelsea's case, Roman Abramovich requires a rebranding exercise. Ancelotti, like Scolari before him, must render a ruthlessly powerful team more loveable and make the serial semi-finalists Champions League winners. Ancelotti, like Scolari before him, must make Jose Mourinho's team his own.

Then it was Brazilian flair, now it is Italian sophistication. Abramovich may have been seduced by a sense of glamour exploits on foreign fields, but reproducing that style of play with Mourinho's men is a task that proved beyond Ancelotti's predecessor. Adding an element of elan entails change. Playing Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka as an orthodox strike partnership suggests a more positive approach. Reconfiguring the midfield indicates Chelsea's diamond will be modelled on Milan's.

For Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf and Kaka, read John Obi Mikel, Michael Essien, Florent Malouda and Frank Lampard respectively. They play in the same positions, but the personnel are very different. Pirlo's timeless mastery of the pass is unlike Mikel's bruising physicality, Lampard's efficient but effective approach in contrast to Kaka's delicate skill. Lampard and Essien are a formidable pair and a reason why Mourinho, who twice attempted to play a midfield diamond, opted for a trio there. More than any of their teammates, Lampard and Essien show Chelsea's strength is their strength. Their resolve and resourcefulness was apparent in the Community Shield, but they have rarely been the aesthete's choice. Yet for Ancelotti, like Scolari before him, that has to be a consideration.

Yuri Zhirkov should assist in that, though he is sidelined by a knee injury. At a club where managers come and go but players remain, one instructive choice came last Sunday; Ricardo Carvalho was preferred to Alex and the Portuguese, who could have been reunited with Mourinho at Inter, brought the ball out of defence with such confidence that he materialised in the Manchester United box in open play to score. It was a reminder that stylish football is not beyond Chelsea. Yet it has been seen all too rarely and against probable relegation strugglers such as Hull, Chelsea do not need to demonstrate their well-honed ability to win 1-0.

Because it is a question of identity. So which Chelsea will it be: the side who did not respond to Scolari's methods, or the awesome team who powered to 34 points in 13 games under Hiddink? Mourinho's misers or Ancelotti's entertainers? @Email:rjolly@thenational.ae Watch Chelsea v Hull live at 3.45pm on Showsports 1 & 2