Desailly says Manchester United have the edge

Former Chelsea defender says weaknesses in midfield will cost Blues in title race
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The Independent Football

Marcel Desailly, the former Chelsea captain, has delivered a withering assessment of his old club's title chances ahead of Saturday's crucial encounter with Manchester United at Old Trafford. Chelsea travel to the home of the champions just one point behind with six games to go, but their hopes of seizing the Premier League title from United's grasp will not have been helped by the comments of one of their esteemed former team-mates.

Desailly named both Joe Cole and Michael Ballack as players who are failing to perform in midfield in the absence through injury of Michael Essien; he predicted United have the edge in the title race despite Chelsea's 7-1 annihilation of Aston Villa last weekend; and he said the club must sell five players in the summer to freshen up the squad.

Desailly is a regular visitor to Stamford Bridge in his new role as a TV analyst, but he may not be quite so welcome now after his disparaging comments about his former club, just days before the most important game of the season.

The former French international said: "Previously the midfield was absolutely amazing. Even if they weren't winning the Premier League it was holding the team together. The midfield was really playing well. Now Joe Cole is not expressing himself as he wanted, Ballack has disappeared the last two months, John Obi Mikel is playing his best but the team misses Essien. So this is why the defence is suffering.

"Obviously it looks like the midfield have not really delivered protection to the defence. The defensive block have had some problems this year. That is why they are not four, five or six points ahead because they have lost many points on free kicks and just generally losing their concentration."

Desailly, who played 222 matches for Chelsea between 1998 and 2004, said the absence of Essien means the Chelsea midfield has less energy compared to Manchester United. Essien has not played for Chelsea since December after injuries to hamstring and knee, the second of which was picked up while away with Ghana at the Africa Cup of Nations. Desailly claimed United now have the edge.

"When you look at the two teams, United have a small advantage on the consistency they are showing in the midfield. Absolutely amazing," he said. "Players like Darren Fletcher, Nani coming back to a high level and Antonio Valencia have made a contribution. Let's not even talk about Ryan Giggs. Right the way back to Edwin van der Sar it's a real team, a group. That's why I believe that Manchester United today have more energy than Chelsea."

Desailly left Chelsea in summer 2004, when Jose Mourinho took over and several players joined including Didier Drogba, Ricardo Carvalho, Petr Cech, Paulo Ferreira and Arjen Robben. He said the club needs a similar overhaul of playing staff in the coming months if it is to sustain a title challenge next season, but fears that owner Roman Abramovich will not be willing to finance further recruitment.

"First of all they need to get rid of four or five guys who are not Chelsea players," he said. "I think five players have to leave the club. After that it depends on the finances. I'm not sure if they will spend again."

Meanwhile, Italy's anti-doping prosecutor is demanding that Adrian Mutu, the former Chelsea striker, receive a one-year ban after twice failing drug tests earlier this year.

The Fiorentina forward tested positive for the anti-obesity drug sibutramine after matches against Bari on 10 January and against Lazio 10 days later. The prosecutor has presented his case to the Italian Olympic Committee, who deal with doping cases in sport, asking for the player to be sidelined for 12 months.

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