Tonight's third-round Carling Cup tie at Stamford Bridge has thrown up a classic princes versus paupers encounter: Chelsea entertain impecunious Notts County, the world's oldest professional club, who are teetering on the brink of oblivion.
The Magpies, now in a record 17th month of financial administration and hoping a £3m takeover can go through before December to stave off expulsion from the Football League, have scrimped and scraped to maintain a 22-man squad valued at a little over £500,000. By contrast, Chelsea's first-team squad numbers 37 and is worth upwards of £171m.
While Claudio Ranieri was spending £16.8m on bringing Hernan Crespo to Chelsea from Lazio, the County manager, Bill Dearden, was enticing the free-transfer forward Clive Platt to Meadow Lane from Rochdale on a month-to-month contract.
In signing Wayne Bridge and Glen Johnson, Chelsea took delivery of defensive talent worth £13m while Dearden snapped up rearguard pairing Tony Barras and Steve Jenkins, again for nothing and again on rolling monthly deals.
Dearden, whose most valuable assets are the goalkeeper, Steve Mildenhall, and the defender Nick Fenton, who cost £150,000 apiece, said: "This game is probably the biggest challenge I've ever had in my managerial career, it's massive.
"They've spent millions and millions of pounds and we've spent nothing so I wouldn't be human if I didn't envy Claudio Ranieri. But having said that, I've put up with not being able to spend anything for the last 17 months of administration so we'll go down there, get on with it and try to give a good account of ourselves.
"We've got a heck of a game on our hands," Dearden added, "and we've got to pull something out of the top drawer to get any kind of a result there. It's real David versus Goliath stuff but it's also cup football so you never know.
"Hopefully we'll go down there and do okay as well, and perhaps make a bit of money for the club and the team from the receipts."
The Notts County Supporters' Trust, who have pledged to save the Magpies, have unashamedly brought out the begging bowl, writing directly to Chelsea's Russian owner, Roman Abramovich, pleading for him to hand them 90 per cent of the cup-tie takings rather than the normal 45 per cent. But with Chelsea already slashing ticket prices to around half their usual cost for this game, the best they have come up with so far is an offer to donate their players' signed shirts to County for auction.
Ranieri has told the £15m midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron that he is a definite starter against the Second Division side.
Veron has taken part in only two of the last six games and his general level of fitness - which was aggravated by an ankle injury - has been called into question.
Ranieri is sure to rotate his squad heavily for the game with the former Tottenham goalkeeper, Neil Sullivan, the German defender, Robert Huth, and Mario Stanic likely to start, while Emmanuel Petit is back in training after a knee injury.
- More about:
- Chelsea F.c.
- Claudio Ranieri
- Mergers And Acquisitions
- Notts County
- Stamford Bridge
- The Carling Cup