Sport Soccer

Wednesday 29 January 2020

Ancelotti refuses to get drawn into war of words with Mourinho ahead of Milan return

Jason Burt

In Roman times, Milan was "Mediolanum" -- the land in the middle -- but these are Roman (Abramovich) times and the Russian billionaire will expect no compromise when his Chelsea side take on Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan this evening. He will want victory.

His manager, Carlo Ancelotti, however, was steering the middle ground last night in trying to dampen down his previous, quarrelsome history with Mourinho -- and his return to Milan, the city he left after eight seasons at Inter's neighbours, AC, to join Chelsea.

The closest he came was a jab, not exactly a full-blown punch, at his former sparring partner by claiming that he had accepted the greater challenge by moving to England than Mourinho had taken on by decamping to Italy. The gist of it was that the Premier League is superior to Serie A. "In Italy at the moment there are only three teams -- Roma, Inter and Milan," Ancelotti said. "In England we are tested every week."

Given that Mourinho is rumoured to be on the move this summer -- surely a call from Manchester City may be on its way? -- then the two could soon be facing each other in domestic competition. England would certainly then be the place to be.

Ancelotti would not be fazed by the prospect even if it was clear last season that this most sanguine of characters did allow the Portuguese man of war to get under his skin. As is his wont. Maybe that was partly why Ancelotti attempted to dead-bat every attempt at creating a drama.

Maybe it was nerves and a clear deference to the city where he has left such a strong impression.

No, Ancelotti claimed, he did not say that the whole of Italy wanted Chelsea to beat Inter -- that, he claimed, was a private conversation which had been misunderstood by an Italian journalist -- and no, he had not said he would be Mourinho's "worst nightmare" and knock him out of this competition. He would want to steer clear of such hubris, certainly so close to kick-off and in the glare of the cameras. "I am not interested in Mourinho," he said.

"I am only interested in preparing my team well to play against Inter. Only this."

Tonight, Ancelotti said, will also be a test and, predictably, he rated it as a "50-50" match, delicately balanced. A contest between two good teams in a "great moment" who are desperate to succeed in a competition which he admitted, having won it twice as a player and twice more as a coach, remains precious to him, more precious than winning the league.

"The Champions League has a special attraction to me," he said. "I am going to try my best for this club. I don't think the expectations are too big at Chelsea. For this club, I don't think it's more important than the championship. It's the same. I respect Inter, they were a rival for many years and I will respect them."

Respect and, he hopes, beat. Ancelotti has a strong record against Inter, especially in knockout competitions.

Chelsea will have to do so with a crisis at left-back. With Ashley Cole injured and Yuri Zhirkov unable to travel due to a calf problem and with Paulo Ferreira not registered for the Champions League there is relief that Juliano Belletti's knee has recovered sufficiently for him to be included.

And with that, Ancelotti tried to play it down again. Did tonight represent his biggest challenge so far at Chelsea? Nope. "I don't think so," he said.

"I had important tests this year against Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. It's one of the most important matches because it's the last 16 of the Champions League and we want to go forward. It's the same for Inter." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Inter Milan v Chelsea

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