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Chelsea's brave new world faces first test

The start of a new season is no place for cynicism, but it is small surprise that recent declarations of a brave new world at Chelsea have been met with a large dash of scepticism. The west Londoners have, after all, been through more new eras in the last five years than some clubs achieve in their entire history.

sports Updated: Aug 14, 2009 07:13 IST

The start of a new season is no place for cynicism, but it is small surprise that recent declarations of a brave new world at Chelsea have been met with a large dash of scepticism.

The west Londoners have, after all, been through more new eras in the last five years than some clubs achieve in their entire history.

Five managers have come and gone in that time, some achieving spectacular success, others miserable mediocrity; big-name signings have been paraded at Stamford Bridge one day and then ushered out of the back entrance the next.

Only the owner, Roman Abramovich, has remained a constant, albeit that he remains largely unseen and completely unheard.

That, in itself, should serve as a warning to Carlo Ancelotti as he prepares for his first Premier League outing in charge against Hull on Saturday.

The Italian is a wily character, having survived life under one of the most flamboyant club owners the world game has to offer in AC Milan's Silvio Berlusconi, but even he might be taken aback by the sheer volatility that comes with being in charge of Chelsea.

Results are essential but, in themselves, not enough. Success must come with a swagger, with football that inspires heartfelt adoration, not merely admiration.

An owner who allegedly fell in love with football after a tumultuous Champions League tie between Manchester United and Real Madrid in 2003 will simply not have it any other way.

The pressure on Ancelotti is intense and while the new manager is undoubtedly being well rewarded for his services at Stamford Bridge, it is clear he will have to earn every penny if he is not to go the way of Claudio Ranieri, Jose Mourinho, Avram Grant and Luiz Felipe Scolari in nine months' time.

The early signs are promising. Chelsea have been impressive in pre-season, adapting quickly to Ancelotti's new tactical diamond formation, and dispatching several top teams during their tour of America.

There was also an ominous statement of intent delivered in last weekend's Community Shield encounter with Manchester United, when Chelsea shrugged off the double-blow of going behind early on and Wayne Rooney's stoppage-time equaliser to triumph on penalties.

If nothing else, that showed Chelsea's famous spirit - which has buckled only rarely since the days of Mourinho - is still as strong as ever.

"I have the feeling the good times are coming back," Michael Essien, the Ghana midfielder, said on his personal blog. "All the players started to feel the good times towards the back end of last season when we got into the winning habit again.

"That's the Chelsea we are used to and during pre-season I could see that same desire on the faces of everyone. That's why I strongly believe there is something exciting around the corner.

"We are already enjoying the company of the new boss and his methods. He has been there, done it and got the shirt for it and we are already getting the vibe from him. It's exciting."

Of course, Scolari was hailed in the same glowing terms last year, when Chelsea played some thrilling football in the season's early stages only for their confidence and form to wither and die with the autumn leaves. Ancelotti cannot afford a repeat.

Chelsea's problems, however, pale in comparison to Hull's.

They ended last season locked in a disastrous downward spiral that almost ended in relegation - a stunning reversal of fortunes from the start of the season, when Phil Brown's team looked unlikely European contenders.

Few expect anything other than a survival battle this season, although Brown is striving to avoid that grisly fate. Deals were completed for Stephen Hunt and Kamel Ghilas on Thursday and Alvaro Negredo could be joining from Real Madrid.

"These are additions that will add strength and depth to the squad," Brown said. He will need it.