Lee Dixon: What does Ancelotti have over Mourinho? His team like him as well as respect him

The Weekend Dossier: Ancelotti has set Chelsea free. Under Mourinho they were structured, now they are thrilling to watch.
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Never bother about the League table until Easter. Such is the wisdom of one of Sir Alex Ferguson's favourite mantras. With a four-point gap between Manchester United and Chelsea after only four games, he may already have reason to avoid glimpses of the numbers that count. And if results go against him this weekend, leaving United seven points behind, he won't exactly be running the slide rule down the table line by line.

Chelsea have had a straightforward start to the season, and with Blackpool at home tomorrow it is not about to get much more challenging quite yet, but they have still been mightily impressive. When a team is scoring so freely, players go out expecting to get four, five, six in every match. Winning becomes the norm, and it is already getting to the stage where lesser teams face them with the attitude that, "If we can keep it down to two here we're doing OK". They are beaten as soon as they glance across at the men in blue. There is an aura about Chelsea now.

When I started playing in the top flight in the 1980s, it was Liverpool who had it. You would stand in the tunnel looking up at the Anfield sign and think, "Here we go again". It is a psychological edge and it matters. Not so long ago, it was Ferguson's United who would create that fear. But this season, Chelsea have it.

There is no simple formula, but in Chelsea's case so much of it comes down to Carlo Ancelotti setting his players free. Under Jose Mourinho they were immaculately organised and played in a very structured manner. It was geared to winning through not letting the opposition have the ball, and it was successful. You can't question Mourinho's record anywhere, but it was not as thrilling to watch as some of the displays Ancelotti's side are putting on. Now the full-backs gallop forward as often as they can and there is a real fluidity to Chelsea's football.

Ancelotti seems liked as well as respected by the players. He has a more relaxed attitude than Mourinho and his demeanour has rubbed off on the players in a positive way. We had a similar situation at Arsenal with George Graham and Arsène Wenger. Both were successful – both managers' methods won the League – but the difference was huge. Under George we were regimented; it was 1-0 to the Arsenal. It became part of your thought process – one up, right that's the game done and dusted. We will not concede. When Wenger arrived we were given more freedom and encouraged to get forward, like Ancelotti has done at Chelsea.

No one doubts that this side are solid at the back, but look at the way Michael Essien is playing. He has always crashed in the odd long-range effort but now he is popping up in the six-yard box. His return to full fitness is so important to Chelsea, better than a new signing. It suits Frank Lampard as well – now it's not all about him making those runs from midfield that are so effective. Compare that to Steven Gerrard at Liverpool – if he doesn't do it, no one does.

United have been spasmodic this season, not least at Everton. It was so unlike them to lose goals in that manner, allowing balls to come into the box. It breaks the first rule of defending.

Like Essien at Stamford Bridge, Rio Ferdinand's comeback is crucial. Nemanja Vidic has been outstanding, and together, provided Rio is properly fit, they bring absolute reliability. Jonny Evans is a good player but he has been struggling.

Antonio Valencia is a big loss. When a player moves from a club like Wigan to one of the big sides it takes time to adjust. Suddenly there are great expectations, every game, every day and some players can't deal with that. He has and has got better and better. It is an example of how well Ferguson handles different players and Dimitar Berbatov is turning out to be yet another. He has been patient and it is paying off.

It has been a tough couple of weeks for the United manager, although he got it right with Wayne Rooney last weekend. United did not lose those points because Rooney was elsewhere. They had plenty of attacking threat without him and they didn't squander the lead because of his absence. Result: Ferguson vindicated, again.

I expect United to beat Liverpool tomorrow, so that table will not make such troubled reading for Ferguson. What he will certainly be looking at is the fixture list. Chelsea's next three are City away, Arsenal at home and Villa away. After that we – and he – will have a much clearer idea of just how good they are.

Five a sides

1 West Ham are in deep, deep, deep trouble

You have to feel some sympathy for Rob Green and Matthew Upson. They were probably relieved to get back to their club after the World Cup, but things have got even worse. That second goal against Chelsea last week was another disaster for both of them. It's not looking good.



2 Warnock shaping up well for the future

I didn't expect West Ham to struggle, but on the other side of London I did expect QPR to do well. Loftus Road is a stadium that could have been made for Neil Warnock. The stands are right on top of the pitch, so when he gets going with his touchline antics it really whips up the atmosphere.



3 It will be kids against kids at the Lane

It will matter hugely to the supporters but don't expect Arsenal or Tottenham to field their first teams in the Carling Cup on Tuesday. Arsène Wenger has always played his kids in the competition and I see no reason for him to change now. It provides the ideal chance to look at younger players in a big-match atmosphere.



4 Champions League format is here to stay

The Champions League group stages are pretty dull, no matter how many goals Arsenal or Chelsea scored. But there is absolutely no way Uefa, or the clubs, would consider going back to the pure European Cup, so unfortunately we're stuck with this procession to the knockout stages.



5 Hats off to the England women

Congratulations to England's women for reaching the World Cup finals. I watched the first leg of the play-off against Switzerland with Martin Keown and we were both impressed.

Dixon's Weekend Verdict

Stoke City vs West Ham United

Dixon's verdict: There already seems a resignation to the way some players are performing for West Ham. They have to find some camaraderie pretty quickly and they will need it at Stoke, who are improving.

Kick-off: Today, 12:45pm (Sky Sports 2; Highlights BBC1, 10.20pm)

Prediction: Home win

Aston Villa vs Bolton Wanderers

Dixon's verdict: Gary Cahill is suspended for Bolton and that is a big loss for Owen Coyle as he has been one of the most consistent defenders in the League. Villa may have their problems but they are decent at home.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.20pm)

Prediction: Home win

Blackburn Rovers vs Fulham

Dixon's verdict: Bobby Zamora's leg break last Saturday was horrific and they will miss him although Moussa Dembele has settled quickly. If they can match Blackburn's physicality then Fulham can get something here.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.20pm)

Prediction: Draw

Everton vs Newcastle United

Dixon's verdict: Everton have been up and down this season, not least against Manchester United last weekend. What they do have is real strength of character, although they should have enough ability here.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.20pm)

Prediction: Home win

Tottenham Hotspur vs Wolverhampton Wdrs

Dixon's verdict: Tottenham may have improved hugely under Harry Redknapp but they still have an erratic nature – as shown against Bremen and Wigan already this season. Wolves are tough and organised enough to hold out.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Setanta Ireland; Highlights BBC1, 10.20pm)

Prediction: Draw

West Bromwich Albion vs Birmingham City

Dixon's verdict: This is a tasty derby. Birmingham are another side who are difficult to break down – their backline is an impressive unit. West Brom need Peter Odemwingie to keep up his good start.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.20pm)

Prediction: Away win

Sunderland vs Arsenal

Dixon's verdict: Arsenal have at times looked really good this season – not least against Braga. But their big tests are still to come. It will be interesting to see how they deal with the robust, direct approach of Gyan.

Kick-off: Today, 5.30pm (ESPN; Highlights BBC1, 10.20pm)

Prediction: Draw

Manchester United vs Liverpool

Dixon's verdict: Liverpool offered so little going forward at Birmingham last weekend it was easy to see why Torres looked out of sorts. Having Joe Cole back should help, but not enough to get anything at Old Trafford.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 1.30pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC2, 10pm)

Prediction: Home win

Wigan Athletic vs Manchester City

Dixon's verdict: City need a win. Apart from the victory over Liverpool they have not impressed so far. Wigan look to be getting better and are certainly more organised than at the start of the campaign.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 3pm (Highlights BBC2, 10pm)

Prediction: Draw

Chelsea vs Blackpool

Dixon's verdict: Another goal spree from Chelsea looks likely given the way Ian Holloway appears reluctant to send his side out to keep it tight. I hope Blackpool aren't on the receiving end but I fear for them.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 4pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC2, 10pm)

Prediction: Home win

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