Carlo Ancelotti in vintage form as Chelsea relish Manchester United battle

07 November 2009 12:14
Great respect means Grand Cru. In preparing to host Manchester United on Sunday, Chelsea's Carlo Ancelotti will raid the cellars for something classy, probably an expensive Brunello. One special red deserves another.

Breaking off briefly from training at Cobham on Friday, Ancelotti was himself on vintage form, talking warmly of Ferguson and Wayne Rooney, noting a weakness in the champions' midfield, dismissing Liverpool as a title force and claiming he would not be using the transfer ban reprieve to buy in January because he was so "happy'' with his squad. By the standards of his erstwhile AC Milan side, Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack and Didier Drogba were "young'', laughed Ancelotti.

 Related Articles'United tie just another game'Chelsea v Manchester United: match previewKevin Garside: Manchester United search for rhythm as Chelsea peakFerguson: no rift between Kuszczak and Van der SarUnited's Ferdinand injury fearsFerdinand out until DecemberChelsea's team-list took second billing to discussion of the manager's wine list. Finding the correct tipple for Ferguson now forms part of the build-up to any United match. Owen Coyle even memorised the tasting notes to impress Ferguson and the Burnley manager doesn't even drink. Jose Mourinho offered the Scot a £270 bottle when United encountered Inter Milan last season.

Ancelotti enjoys this British tradition, a ritual he first experienced a decade ago in his Juventus days. "It was the semi-finals of the Champions League and United equalised in the last minute, so I was a bit angry and upset, but after the red wine it was better. Ferguson was very kind. Usually in Italy after a game you're nervous, so I appreciated his offer of a glass of red wine.

"I gave him a bottle after Milan played United in the 2007 Champions League semi-final. It was very good red wine Brunello. It's good to maintain a good relationship with the other coaches. We're not used to doing this in Italy.''

A very grounded individual, with interests outside football, Ancelotti seems fazed by little. Two European Cups as a player and two more as a coach tends to foster a certain security. Ferguson may have realised this, understanding that mind games will not disturb the Italian's equilibrium as has worked with Rafael Benítez.

"There might be a problem between Benítez and Ferguson but it's not my problem,'' shrugged Ancelotti. "I have a very good relationship with Ferguson He's one of the best coaches in the world. He's won a lot of trophies. I have respect for him. He does a fantastic job with this team.

"For a coach to stay such a long time [23 years] with one team is very difficult, not only in England but everywhere. In Italy it would be impossible, for sure.''

Ferguson runs Old Trafford, a situation Ancelotti could never contemplate. "I prefer to maintain control of technical decisions and not think about the other things, but Ferguson does very well in everything.''

Ancelotti liked the idea of building a "dynasty'' at the Bridge but felt it rather unlikely he could match Ferguson's longevity. "If my mind doesn't 'go down', I can do that!''

As is seen with the wine, Chelsea's highly-likeable, hugely-talented coach leaves nothing to chance. Not since the title-winning pomp of Mourinho have visitors to Cobham noted such confidence as filled the place on Friday.

Chelsea are playing well, certainly more expansively than under Mourinho; harmony rules; Drogba is back to his bulldozing best and Lampard is flying again at a time when United are revealing signs of frailty. The buzz in the air at Chelsea's retreat was inescapable and it wasn't simply the mowers revving up at the thought of Patrice Evra coming to town.

Chelsea's optimism has risen following United's defeat at Anfield. Viewing the DVD, Ancelotti spotted how Lucas and Javier Mascherano outmuscled Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick.

"Liverpool put a lot of pressure on United. That's why they won. They didn't give United any possibility to play like they want to. It was a good lesson for us because United can suffer when there's pressure on their midfielders.

"Every team is vulnerable. There is not a team that is invincible, right?'' Correct. But the problem for Ferguson's champions on Sunday is that midfield is an area where Chelsea are so powerful. Michael Essien, Lampard and Ballack represent a formidable trio. Up front, Drogba could bully Jonny Evans. "Without Rio Ferdinand they lose something Ferdinand is a very good defender but Evans and (John) O'Shea are very good centre-backs,'' countered Ancelotti.

He understands the logic of being brave and going for United's jugular. In the San Siro leg of their 2007 Champions League semi-final, Ancelotti's Milan swept aside United. "We lost the first leg in the last minute and that goal forced my team to play in a more attacking style from the start of the game. At the same time, United thought to defend. After 15 minutes we were 2-0 up.

"But the best way to play against United is to maintain a balance [between attack and defence]. They have a fantastic striker. Rooney is one of the most intelligent strikers in the world. It is very, very dangerous to play against him. We have to think about him.''

Benítez's team were not in his thoughts when it came to the chase for the Premier League title. "We can't think about Liverpool because they are behind but Arsenal have a very good team and a very good chance to win.''

Like Arsenal, Chelsea will lose players for the African Cup of Nations, but Ancelotti has no intention of buying reinforcements.

"I know we will lose four [Drogba, Essien, Salomon Kalou and John Obi Mikel] in January, but if we maintain the players' fitness we can do a good period. It's not necessary to buy new players.

"I am happy with the squad. I have experience of not having problems about old players! I trained some players until they're 40 years old [Paolo Maldini]. So our players have a lot of time yet!''

A rather younger soul, Gaël Kakuta, the teenage winger whose recruitment from Lens triggered the Fifa ban, is fit and "will play on Monday in the reserve team''.

Ancelotti also added that he had no problem with Roman Abramovich sticking a sponsors' name on Stamford Bridge, a move that some consider rather tacky.

"It's not the name of the stadium that maintains the relationship between the fans and the team,'' stressed Ancelotti before strolling off to get the players ready and the wine.

Source: Telegraph

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