That was the rather racuous and optimistic cry that revebarated around the back of the Hammersmith End towards the end of our entertaining Europa League tie with Amkar Perm on Thursday night. Both Carlo Ancelotti and Paul Merson have identified different London clubs as Chelsea’s real rivals (and for what it’s worth I make the Italian closer to the mark) in the build up to tomorrow’s tussle down by the Thames but they’ll be no quarter given come kick-off time that’s for sure.
Ancelotti has made an impressive enough start at Stamford Bridge, even though there have been times when it appeared that the pupils were rather befuddled by the master’s instructions. Chelsea have handed goal starts to both Hull and Sunderland and their second half fightback at the Stadium of Light in midweek underscored their title credentials. Imagine what they might do when things are running smoothly.
For all the criticism of Ancelotti’s record at AC Milan, he certainly won’t be overrawed by working for Roman Abramovich. Having become used to Sylvio Berlusconi using him as a punching bag, the Russian oil-magnate surely shouldn’t provide any sleepless nights. There have been fewer big arrivals than in previous summers and the signs are that Yuri Zhirkov’s league debut will have to wait a little while longer. Quite where the Russian – most suited to playing wide on the left – will fit in Ancelotti’s favoured system remains to be seen.
It is the midfield that will hold the key to this contest I fancy. Michael Essien seems a little underused as the water carrier to the engine room as he can be very useful breaking late into the box. That also remains Frank Lampard’s forte and with the likes of Michael Ballack and Deco also likely to be rampaging forward, the application of Murphy and Etuhu – should the Nigerian pass a fitness test – will be severely tested. While Ancelotti’s tinkering is far from approaching that of one of his compatriots who failed to deliver for Abramovich, he has already shifted Lampard from the hole to a deeper role and shuffled his pack already. Soloman Kalou, the man who Drogba attempted to pick out with a cross that floated beyond Boaz Myhill on the opening day, is widely tipped to start just behind the Ivorian on Sunday.
Lack of width has been a criticism levelled at Roy Hodgosn’s side, but Ancelotti’s narrow midfield places quite an emphasis on both full-backs getting forward. Therefore, it will be the job of Fulham’s wide men to spend as much time pushing the energetic Jose Bosingwa and the loveable Ashley Cole in the opposite direction. For that reason alone, it strikes me as imperative that Hodgson starts with Damien Duff – who will need little extra motivation to prove a point to his former employers – and the ever-willing Clint Dempsey on the flanks. Whether Roy will be quite so bold is a moot point.
His other major selection headache concerns who to pick up front. A couple of journalists seemed very keen to ask Dempsey whether he’d be willing to replace the injured Andy Johnson but, however much of a trier he might be, Clint’s not a centre forward. Far better we try Erik Nevland up top. The Norwegian’s clever running unsettled Chelsea at the Bridge last season until his afternoon was brought to a premature end by a crude John Terry challenge. Diomansy Kamara didn’t feature on Thursday and Eddie Johnson would be the left-field pick, even if the American looked a lot more useful in pre-season.
When our neighbours are the opponents, the Cottage is always that little bit livelier. Dempsey’s header at the death last term had the Hammersmith End – and quite possibly the whole place rocking. What price another Boa Morte moment in front of the Sky cameras?
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy, Dempsey, Duff; Zamora, Nevland. Subs: Stockdale, Kelly, Baird, Riise, Gera, Kamara, E. Johnson.