James Lawton: Ancelotti has made Chelsea easier on the eye and the senses

The Blues will be deserving champions as their modest and stylish Italian manager has masterminded victories over key rivals
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The Independent Online

No one can begrudge Chelsea their status as champions-elect and this is so even if they have not always presented a beguiling image.

Not, certainly in some of the arrogance accompanying the random wealth provided by Roman Abramovich when he found out he could not lump Manchester United among his playthings, and maybe least of all in the claim of former chief executive Peter Kenyon that they had turned the Premier League into a "bunch of one".

Nor could it be ignored that in the messianic leadership that brought Jose Mourinho two straight titles there was a willingness to trample over certain values – including the simple one of telling the truth – that inevitably worked against any open-hearted celebration of some remarkable achievement.

However, Chelsea the second time around are both easier on the eye – and the senses.

This is partly due to the style of their new manager, Carlo Ancelotti, a naturally modest character who, despite winning some of the greatest prizes on offer to a player and a coach, still manages to look into the mirror every morning without an overwhelming compulsion to genuflect. It may also have something to do with a certain maturing process, in which both Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, the men who carried their team so close to the mountain top at Anfield yesterday, have played a conspicuous part.

John Terry and Ashley Cole may not be the game's most embraceable characters, with the former still struggling for something like his old impact, but despite off-field convulsions, and in Cole's case a serious injury, they have over the season made huge contributions to a team effort that has given Chelsea the look of authentic champions.

It has not been anything like a vintage year, of course, but when it has mattered against the only teams that offered a threat to their accumulated strength, United and Arsenal, they have been unquestionably the masters.

Until Mourinho's hard-nosed, inspired ambush at Stamford Bridge in the Champions League round of 16, Chelsea had to be strongly fancied to provide Abramovich with the holy grail of his first European triumph.

Not only did they seem to be building on the superb retrenchment achieved by Guus Hiddink at the end of last season, one that could easily have brought the Champions League breakthrough but for some bizarre officiating in the second leg of their semi-final against Barcelona, they were at last beginning to play some of the football for which Abramovich has always hankered.

Mourinho gleefully smashed his fist through that projection, but what has so plainly emerged is that Ancelotti is a man who knows how to guide a ship through the squalliest of weather. When Chelsea slipped from the impressive level they established at the start of the season, sliding to a dreadful defeat in Wigan, the Italian shrugged his shoulders and said that such things happened to the best of teams. The vital thing, he added, was not to make unnecessary drama.

His reaction was the same when the Champions League was snatched from his grasp and there was talk of an incensed Abramovich again contemplating a change of leadership. Ancelotti held his nerve – and that of his team. He said that professionals had only one option. It was to re-assemble the pieces as briskly as possible and get on with the job. This, but for the pratfall at White Hart Lane, Chelsea have done impressively, with the result that Ancelotti's almost certain down payment on glory is the not inconsiderable one of the club's first League and Cup Double in his opening season.

It means there is ground for improvement – but, in terms of results, not a lot.

Yesterday's progress to the ante-room of triumph might have been less magisterial if Steven Gerrard had not resurrected his genius for splitting his own defence, sending a back pass to the feet of Drogba quite as precisely as he did to those of Zinedine Zidane, no less, in the last strides of a European Championship group game which might otherwise have brought an inspiring victory over the reigning champions.

However, if Gerrard's mishap weirdly corresponded to what was estimated to represent at least 50 per cent of the home crowd's desire for Chelsea to deny United the chance of moving ahead of Liverpool and scoring a record 19th English title win, there had to be the conviction that the men from the King's Road would have eventually found a way to win. By the end, Liverpool were fortunate not to lose by three or four goals, a result that it is hard to imagine would have caused more than momentary satisfaction even to the most embittered inhabitants of the Kop.

Liverpool's finish to the season has been so pitiful it is unlikely that even Rafa Benitez's flair for diverting blame is equal to the task of soldiering on, even if the predicted flight to Juventus goes awry.

On a bleak day indeed for Liverpool, perhaps the nearest thing to redemption was provided by the ultimate loyalist Jamie Carragher. Asked about the large fan opinion that it was better for Liverpool to lose rather than cede top place to United in the stockpile of titles, he scarcely concealed his contempt.

Titles tend to go to the teams that deserve them, he said. You do not resent that, you use it for a redoubling of your own effort.

Certainly, it has been the style of Chelsea. Under Ancelotti, they have shown again both the mettle and the quality of champions. Naturally, United refused to accept this when they went out at Sunderland. It was their right and their character.

The rest of us had the luxury of a more dispassionate view. It was that the title was heading in the right direction and into deserving hands.

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