James Lawton: Ancelotti busy building second empire
Chelsea's awesome display puts in stark contrast the dwindling horizons of those former giants of the game, Liverpool and Everton
Monday 30 November 2009
English football's Super Sunday was supposed to be another tale of two cities but long before the end of it Chelsea had once again declared a separate universe.
The impact left Arsenal, whose football had flowed with all its usual rhythm and beauty, broken, gasping – and what must have seemed like a small lifetime away from the centre of football power here and in Europe. Where it deposited crisis-ridden Liverpool, after their tortured win over Everton, was still another story of dwindling horizons.
Chelsea are simply detaching themselves from the rest of the field with the kind of goal Didier Drogba spirited away after a stunning build-up by John Terry and Ashley Cole just before the interval. There was something verging on the sadistic, too, when he powered home his second and Chelsea's third with a free-kick that not only beat Manuel Almunia but must have made him feel the merest extra to the drama bursting before his eyes.
Under Carlo Ancelotti, who after surviving the foibles of his Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi, is making work under Roman Abramovich seem like a licence to stroll down the King's Road, Chelsea are threatening to achieve levels of performance and achievement that even the ambition and the panache of Jose Mourinho failed to conjure.
They are promising another empire, one that runs much deeper in its range and subtlety than the one briefly imposed by the Special One – and for reasons to believe that this may be so we didn't have to look any further than the devastation wrought by Chelsea so savagely in those minutes before half-time.
In football we might describe it as a brilliant exertion of sudden pressure. In boxing it would be called a classic example of the old one-two combination. Arsenal's eyes were suitably glazed and for the rest of us there could only be one conclusion.
Chelsea are not only the team everybody has to beat in all the great competitions; they are also the team that are threatening to diminish the possibility in the minds of all opponents before they step on the field.
There were more than inklings of this when Guus Hiddink rallied the team in the second half of last season and saw them pound almost to oblivion the eventual and sublime champions of Europe, Barcelona.
Yet under Ancelotti there seem to be new certainties, the kind of assurance that makes the possibilities of defeat remote. Arsenal played some lovely football at times, but they were always straining to impose themselves. Chelsea, by comparison, looked untouchable.
Earlier, up in what used to be English football's first city, such considerations as grace and precision ran a long way second to the imperatives thrust at the Liverpool and Everton managers, Rafa Benitez and David Moyes, in a week that had come not so much as a passing ordeal but a bleak peek at an imploding future.
While Wenger and Ancelotti could tell themselves they were shooting for the stars, Benitez and Moyes had a much more prosaic obligation. They had to show they still had the means – and the will – to rustle up some kind of resistance to the idea that they were locked in a season unshakeably cursed with evil portents.
Cruelly for Moyes, the hex which brought defeat at Hull and the hammer blow of rejection of Everton's plan for a new stadium and life- giving revenue was quite immovable, a fact which was declared earlier when Javier Mascherano's shot took an outrageous deflection before skittering past goalkeeper Tim Howard.
That, and wrenching prolificacy in front of goal, thrust Moyes another haunting step closer to the possibility that seven years of fine work against the odds will end in futility.
Everton overran Liverpool for most of a match which might have been happening on another planet to the one scheduled at the Emirates, yet Benitez's men rode their luck and Dirk Kuyt's late goal taunted the feebleness of Everton's finishing: It meant that Benitez could claim the first part of the recovery plan had been achieved. Liverpool were back on the road to reinstatement as a top four club and that in this sense it was a case of being back in business. Grim business, though, in an old, unwanted stadium and against a team who for most of a deeply mediocre game had lacked only the ability to apply a coup de grâce .
The former rulers of the first city of football looked like no greater certainties for anything but a place in the pack, closer of course to a return to the top four than before a weekend of favourable results, but in reality operating in another, lesser dimension to the runaway leaders of the Premier League.
Even Manchester United must feel the first squeeze of heavy pressure this season despite the dismantling of Portsmouth. That effort, along with all else that happened outside north London yesterday, had to be placed in the margins of the Chelsea statement.
Ironically, it was the recently departed chief executive of Chelsea, Peter Kenyon, who once inspired the scorn of the rest of English football when he declared the league race concerned a "bunch of one". Today scorn would not be appropriate. It would have to be replaced by a pained acceptance of a growing reality.
If there is any comfort now, it is that Ancelotti is not the kind of man to make such a vainglorious statement. He is, plainly, a man happily in touch with all the nuances of football. So, it is increasingly apparent, is every member of his team.
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