One competitive game played and one trophy won. In anyone’s books that’s an impressive record so far from Mr Ancelotti, with a psychologically boosting victory over our title rivals to boot. What was particularly sweet of course was we actually won in a penalty shoot-out, an almost surreal experience for us really, as each kick was expertly slotted home. Michael Ballack showed some German precision, also in his spot-kick, and nicely rounded off his eventful cameo. He must have also enjoyed Evra’s attempt from twelve yards which was so weakly struck it looked unlikely to have crossed the line until Monday.
The curtain raiser nicely welcomed us back to the familiar world of football. A sunny Wembley afternoon, a nicely contested tie by the two favourites for the league and, before the season has even kicked off proper, some hypocritical comments from everyone’s favourite red-faced tosspot Sir Alex Ferguson. I have enjoyed his comments in the close season. It wasn’t so long ago he branded Rafa ‘arrogant’ for suggesting Everton weren’t a big a club as Liverpool. This summer the broadsides were aimed at Middle Eastlands with a typically non-bitter quip that Man City are a small club with a small mentality. Onto the charity shield and Fergie was quick to question Ballack’s integrity. If the ref had seen it he would have sent him off, he stated afterwards. Or the ref did see it, his team played on and then we wouldn’t have scored if his left back wasn’t rolling around the floor clutching his face. The United players surrounded the ref, Fergie’s comments clearly didn’t boost the respect campaign and yet Ballack was the one questioned by the press and ‘got away’ with no ban or fine. It’s nice to know some things don’t change as the league approaches kick-off.
The match itself was a spikier affair than usual, with some descent football played for the final preseason game. It was another chance to have a closer look at the diamond and merits of. It seems that once again it’s time to arrange the pints around the pub table in mock formation. (With Deco as a tumbler?) It does look a more fluid unit this time around than Mourinho’s earlier brittle attempt with Sheva and Ballack. Anelka in particular is looking to drop wide or deep to help build up play and Lampard capable of dropping back into central midfield for numbers. The main worries with diamonds is the lack of width but the full backs did well to bomb forward. Ivanovic getting isolated two on one looked to be a problem but Essien did enough to help him out. It means a big job for the anchor and Mikel unfortunately had an off day last weekend. Essien brought calm authority to the role but we would miss his bombarding runs. Likewise it’ll be interesting if we get the best from Lampard so high up the pitch. He later switched left but Malouda once again produced a swash-buckling performance that means he won’t give up that position in a hurry.
With so many players capable of playing different roles (Tumbler Deco left, anchor, point or bench?) in this system it will surely lead to greater flexibility in tight home matches that we can’t afford to draw. Hull, I’m looking at you. The main plus point though has to be the front two partnership of Drogba and Anelka. They both look sharp, quick and genuinely work for each other, it has all the hallmarks of a Jimmy-Eidur style high-scoring pair. Both are more than capable of getting twenty goals each over the season, added to Lampard’s obligatory 20 goal haul and that’s the kind goal difference that wins you stuff. Lots of stuff.
I’ve got a good feeling about Ancelotti and the season ahead. He seems astute, has the players pulling together as Hiddink did and wants to play an exciting, expansive game. It’s a similarly warm feeling to when the special one arrived. If he can win us back the league from Old Trafford then his first season will be legendary.