Ancelotti to keep faith with pensioners
Sometime or other, Chelsea's old guard are finally going to be too old -- but according to manager Carlo Ancelotti that time has not yet come.
Two summers ago, Alex Ferguson said the Blues' squad was too decrepit to mount a serious challenge for honours; yet it was those ancient Chelsea players who took Manchester United's title from them last season and added the FA Cup to complete a domestic double.
Another season on, and the likes of Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, John Terry, and Nicolas Anelka still remain the key figures in a team aiming to maintain its domination of the silverware of the English game.
Ancelotti, whose Chelsea side look like mere babes compared to the collection of old-stagers under his charge during his latter years at Milan, insisted yesterday he remains unconcerned about the effects of time on his squad.
The imminent replacement of the departed Michael Ballack (33) with £18m rated Brazilian midfielder Ramires (23) is the lone element of rejuvenation in a squad which has seen 28-year-old Joe Cole replaced by 30-year-old Yossi Benayoun.
Having been rebuffed in their efforts to sign Liverpool striker Fernando Torres, Chelsea look much the same as last season, although they still have a fight on their hands to keep hold of Ashley Cole, who is wanted by Real Madrid.
Ancelotti yesterday repeated his claim that the defender is not for sale, but admitted he had not spoken with the player about his state of mind.
As long as Cole stays put, Ancelotti is ready to stand by his Chelsea pensioners, for one more year at least. He believes experience will be the key to Chelsea's season: "They (the players) will be better this season because they have one year more experience, like me. I'm not older. I'm more experienced," he said at the club's training ground yesterday, as he ran his fingers through his thick crop of grey hair.
"I am a better manager now. I had more doubt last year, when I started. I think we start this season in a different situation because I have more knowledge about players, clubs and the atmosphere in England and the teams. I have had a very good experience here and surely improved my knowledge."
Ancelotti said he will blood some of the club's young players this season, saying it would be a "risk" to play them in important games but that he had the "courage" to do so.
He also predicted his ageing squad will be able to live up to the challenge of repeating their double of last year, as he will rest players whenever the club's fitness tests show fatigue is starting to show.
"After a fantastic season I think we could repeat the same this year with these players.
"I think that for us it will be more difficult. Everyone knows they have to play against last year's winner so we have to pay attention. There could be a surprise every game, so we have to have better concentration to maintain the same level as last year.
"Controlling the rests is very important, to control the load of the training. I don't think we have more problems because they're a year older."
The first challenge for Ancelotti is tomorrow's Community Shield with Manchester United, a fixture Chelsea won 12 months ago on penalties to give his reign the ideal start.
The game carries greater weight for Chelsea this time, as they come into it on the back of three straight defeats in friendlies.
"We need to come back to winning ways," said Ancelotti. "We lost the last three friendlies, but we're not happy to lose too many games. We have the opportunity to win and start well."
Tomorrow also sees the Blues boss pitted against Alex Ferguson again, a man who sportingly sent the Italian a message of congratulations when Chelsea won the Premier League on the final day of an enthralling title race. "He is a very kind man," said Ancelotti. "I hope he sends me another one next May." (© Independent News Service)
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