Double-chasing Chelsea still long for Euro success

LONDON - The beer will flow in the Kings Road if Carlo Ancelotti's Chelsea complete the domestic League and Cup Double but a vodka toast might have to wait after a season where the Champions League again proved elusive.

A home win over Wigan Athletic on Sunday will secure the Premier League after a three-year drought and the Londoners will start as huge favourites in the FA Cup final against Portsmouth six days later.

Russian multi-billionaire owner Roman Abramovich will no doubt greet a first double with his usual understated grin.

Yet when he sits down to watch Chelsea's Champions League conquerors Inter Milan take on Bayern Munich in the final on May 22, Abramovich will surely wonder what might have been if Jose Mourinho - who is eyeing a treble with Inter - had stayed as boss at Stamford Bridge.

When Ancelotti arrived last year his brief was clear - bring home the ultimate club trophy in global football to west London for the first time. He was an obvious choice for the task having won it twice at AC Milan in 2003 and 2007.

An outwardly calm, avuncular figure, Ancelotti settled in well from the start though his interviews carried out in limited English generally shed little light on his ideas.

Not the obsessive, cagey tactician like the self-styled "special one" Mourinho, nor did he sink to the Arsene Wenger routine of apparently blaming others when Arsenal lost.


Similarly he stayed calm when things were going well and he remained steadfastly above the "mind games" of Alex Ferguson which had successfully psyched out other title-contending managers.

Not that Ancelotti is afraid of giving his players a dressing down when he thinks standards are dropping as they found at halftime in their FA Cup fifth round game against Cardiff this season.

"The manager was crazy, so we went into the second half knowing what we had to do. He went mad at us," said midfielder John Obi Mikel as Chelsea kicked on from a 1-1 halftime scoreline to win 4-1.

"He shouted at us in English and Italian, everything. When he's mad he mixes everything up. He was not happy. Normally, he's pretty laid back. But when things are not going right, that's when he goes a bit mad."

The fans and the media's view remains, however, firmly restricted to a far more sober, almost party-pooping, kind of character.

When Chelsea fans sang at one recent game "Carlo, Carlo give us a wave", it needed the intervention of assistant and Chelsea long-termer Ray Wilkins to make him aware of the call, to which he eventually responded with a sheepish flap of the arm.

He has shown faith in his players, and as at Milan, his approach has been to respect the knowledge and experience of his senior pros.

He dealt well with the absence of key players during the African Cup of Nations and took confidence from how the team performed without Didier Drogba to become more adventurous in his tactics in the latter half of the season.

As a result the goals have rained in from all angles and, with Nicolas Anelka sometimes alone up front, the midfield have been even more productive and difficult to play against.

Three times this season Chelsea have scored seven goals in a league match and their 7-0 win over Stoke City last month will go down as one of their most complete attacking performances for years as the ball fizzed into the box from every angle.


They have scored 95 goals in the league this season and if they muster another five against Wigan they would become the first team since Spurs in 1962-63 to score 100 in a season - and from four fewer games.

"We have fantastic strikers and we are a team that can use midfielders who score 25 goals in a season - there is nobody in the other teams like this," Ancelotti said.

"I tried to change something in the season, to put a new play on the pitch. I think that we have now a good identity. If you look at the way Chelsea play, you can recognise our kind of play. You must play good football if you have this quality of players."

Quality of player is certainly one half of the equation but Ancelotti knows that creating a team spirit is the other and his much-discussed meeting with the players when things were starting to go adrift earlier this year showed he was in there with them rather than dictating from above.

"We didn't feel that confident and it was only that heart to heart, which has been documented, where players got things off their chest, which allowed us to move on together," said Frank Lampard.

"A lot of credit needs to go to the manager for that. He sat down and was open himself and we all moved on."

A domestic Double would certainly mark a memorable first season for Ancelotti and will give the fans plenty to celebrate but he knows he will be judged on bigger things.

He could win the Double every season, and throw in the League Cup and Community Shield all with panache, but unless he brings home the biggest trophy of all he will never, for Chelsea's fans and owner, be a truly "special one."

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