Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti admitted yesterday he is comfortable with his role as the man the others have to topple. In what is becoming a regular occurrence this season, he yesterday named his side to face Manchester City at their Eastlands home today, and followed the 11 names by adding the postscript: "It's a good team, eh?" That is the remark of a man with the utmost confidence in his team.
Chelsea made the template for buying their way to the title that City are now trying to follow. Ancelotti accepted that his job of maintaining a successful side was far less demanding than the task that faces his counterpart, and friend, Roberto Mancini.
Ancelotti is content to reap the benefits of continuity after he inherited a strong squad that has remained largely the same for several seasons. Mancini has the opposite task, of building a side in a short time-frame.
Ancelotti, who is a stone and a half lighter since starting a diet in pre-season, said: "We did the same when Roman started to be the owner. Now we don't need to spend this money because we have a good squad and young players who are improving.
"I prefer to have a team ready to play. I'm happy in that I don't have difficulties. Last season was fantastic and [we] maintained the same squad, so this season it's easier to work with these players. If you always change nine or 10 players, it's more difficult."
Under Ancelotti Chelsea have entered a new phase, when the hatred that many football fans felt towards them is starting to mellow. Ancelotti's easy charm is one reason but the overwhelming factor is the spectacular football his team has produced both this season and last.
Surprisingly perhaps, Ancelotti confessed yesterday that it had not been his intention to instruct Chelsea to become such an attractive team, merely that he had come to the pragmatic conclusion that it suited the players at his disposal.
Ancelotti said: "The quality of the players means we have to play good football. It's the right way to play with these players. I don't know if we are entertaining. We don't want to be entertainers. We want to play good football, we want to win and we want to give enjoyment to our fans."
City beat Chelsea twice last season in the league, including a memorable 4-2 victory at Stamford Bridge when the outrage that surrounded the allegations that John Terry had been sleeping with Wayne Bridge's ex-girlfriend was at its frenzied height.
Terry must today face the wrath of the City fans in what will be his first appearance at Eastlands since the story broke at the start of the year, a fact that does not bother Ancelotti. "John Terry is able to do as he did last year, he won't have a problem," Ancelotti said.
"I'm watching the same John Terry of the last year, focused and concentrated on the training ground. He shows leadership and puts in good performances on the pitch. Nothing has changed."
Ancelotti said he still considers City to be title contenders, despite their inconsistent start to the season, and singled out Carlos Tevez as their most dangerous player.
Asked if City can force their way back into the race for the Premier League, the Italian said: "They have the possibility to do this. They didn't start so well but they have the possibility and the time to come back to first place in the table. Tevez is the most dangerous player at City. He has quality, power, a very good mentality. I appreciate his kind of player and we have to pay attention [to him]."