Chelsea maintains competitive mind-set ahead of final game

July 24, 2009
DavisBy Steve Davis
(Archive)

DALLAS -- Chelsea's days of aggressively hopscotching across America in a blitz of travel and training has taken the EPL heavyweight to the American Northwest, into Southern California and out to the East Coast -- but apparently is taking no toll on the team.

So says new manager Carlo Ancelotti, who insists the extensive travel (and the occasional need for improvisation in training) is useful preparation for busy days that await his London side once it merges into more meaningful matches.

Next up on the U.S. barnstorming binge is a stop in Texas, where Ancelotti's Londoners will meet the dominant team from another of the globe's megacities.

Mexico City giant Club America is Chelsea's final opponent in the ongoing World Football Challenge, as the clubs meet Sunday in suburban Dallas, inside the Cowboys new $1 billion edifice. On the current tour, the Blues first disposed of a pesky Seattle Sounders side inside another swank NFL ground. Three days later, Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard scored as they ruined their former manager's night, defeating Inter Milan at the Rose Bowl by a 2-0 margin.

Chelsea is scheduled to meet AC Milan on Friday night in yet another nationally televised contest, this one at sold-out M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. The Blues had been scheduled on Thursday to train at the stadium, home of the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, but heavy rains and concerns over pitch conditions for Friday's match necessitated a hasty move to a nearby university for training.

Ancelotti, in his first year in charge at Stamford Bridge, seems at ease with the jam-packed schedule of training, cross-continent travel and heavy brand-building hubbub at every stop. He's even taking the time Saturday night in Dallas for a meet-and-greet with fans at a prominent soccer pub.

"We want them to have a lot of fun if they come see the match, and we're going to do our best to make it enjoyable for the fans in the USA," Ancelotti said at a news conference before Friday's match in Baltimore.

WFC schedule
Friday
AC Milan vs. Chelsea
M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
8 p.m. ET, ESPN, ESPN360.com

Sunday
AC Milan vs. Inter
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
5 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com

Chelsea vs. Club America
Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
7 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com

Chelsea's new manager has deployed many of his first-choice starters so far, even allowing some to play their way into shape with nearly full-match appearances. Ashley Cole went 78 minutes in the midweek win over Inter, while Lampard remained on through the 87th minute.

One player who had yet to feature before Friday is newly signed Russian Yuri Zhirkov, who has now obtained his work permit and was expected to debut for the Blues on Friday.

Evocative subplots have highlighted Chelsea's previous two stops, one against the club's former manager, Jose Mourinho, and one against Ancelotti's old club, AC Milan, all set against a backdrop of ongoing transfer speculation over captain John Terry. While there won't be such a dramatic backdrop for Sunday's contest, the strength of opponent should keep things interesting.

Club America doesn't own the international pedigree of AC Milan, Inter Milan, Chelsea, etc. But the Mexico side, part of the Televisa television empire and one of the richest clubs outside Europe, raised eyebrows with wins so far over Inter Milan (in penalties) and on Wednesday over AC Milan in Atlanta. Daniel Marquez and Enrique Esqueda scored for Club America inside the Georgia Dome. Club America features several Mexican internationals, including club captain Pavel Pardo, who is just back from a three-year spell at Stuttgart.

Chelsea's players understand why they are here and surely haven't lost sight of the ultimate aim -- to prepare for nine months of league, cup and continental battle. Still, they say the competitive instincts emerge in these friendlies. "We have all loved it," Blues midfielder John Mikel Obi said during Thursday's news conference. "We came here to work hard and make sure we get ready for the season. … But we want to win."

The swaggering stars of Chelsea and Club America won't be the first athletes to grace the Dallas Cowboys' grand new stadium. That bit of trivia went last week to teams of the Gold Cup, which christened the venue as an athletic theater before more than 82,000. But Sunday's game will be the first played on real grass, a stipulation of the World Football Challenge contract. The sod was brought in Wednesday, with officials hopeful that it will stitch itself together by Sunday.

Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes a blog, Dailysoccerfix.com, and can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.