Sunday 17 December 2017

Chelsea out to finally scratch Roman's seven-year itch

Mark Fleming in Zilina

chelsea return tonight to the Pod Dubnom Stadium, where Roman Abramovich's Russian revolution began seven years ago.

In 2003, Claudio Ranieri's hastily compiled team completed a 2-0 victory over MSK Zilina in the first leg of a Champions League qualifier -- a game which marked the dawning of the club's Roman empire. At the time, it seemed as if Abramovich's funding of Chelsea would build a dynasty capable of dominating England, and possibly Europe, for many years.

If that was the ambition -- and it appeared to be the case with the likes of Peter Kenyon predicting they would "turn the world blue" -- then they have fallen short.

Undoubtedly they are one of the strongest teams in Europe, with three Premier League titles, three FA Cup successes and two in the Carling Cup to show for the £700m the Russian oligarch has pumped into the club, not forgetting the six different managers he has employed.

Yet the biggest prize of all, the Champions League, still eludes Chelsea, despite reaching five semi-finals and one final since the Russian billionaire took up residency at Stamford Bridge.

Abramovich still props up the club by writing off their operating losses, which were £66m in 2008 and £44m in 2009, but he has not spent the kind of crazy money he did seven years ago, when in just over one month he blew £111m on 10 new players. Now he leaves the silly spending to Manchester City.

However, manager Carlo Ancelotti was at pains to point out yesterday that Abramovich is still as committed to the club as ever, despite not shelling out as much of his own money.

"He has a lot of passion for this club. He feels that this is his club, 100pc," Ancelotti said.

In place of expensive new signings, Ancelotti must blood some of his promising youngsters, such as the striker Daniel Sturridge, who comes into the starting line-up tonight in place of Didier Drogba, banned for two games after his red card in the loss to Internazionale last season.

Enticing the very best out of Sturridge will require much of the man-management skills on which Ancelotti has built his reputation. The 21-year-old was criticised by many within the club last season for believing his own hype, but the Italian believes that he has learned a valuable lesson.

"Daniel has improved a lot in the past year," Ancelotti said. "He improved his character, his professional behaviour. He has matured and is a fantastic striker. I hope that he will start to play fantastic."

Ancelotti has rested Ashley Cole and has left Frank Lampard to continue recuperating from hernia surgery, demonstrating his desire to rotate his players throughout the season to ensure they are fresh for the key games in the spring.

Last season Chelsea lost out to Internazionale in March at the last-16 stage. Their Roman emperor will hope this is the year they can finally conquer Europe. (© Independent News Service)

MSK Zilina v Chelsea,

Live, Sky Sports 2, Setanta Irl, 7.45

Irish Independent

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