Chelsea get ready for Liverpool test

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London:  Carlo Ancelotti does not come across as a man given to idle superstitions and perhaps it is just as well. If he was, Sunday's Premier League showdown with Liverpool would look far more daunting than it already is.

It was almost a year ago to the week that Liverpool travelled to Stamford Bridge for a meeting with a Chelsea side coasting at the top of the Premier League table under an exotic new manager.

Ninety minutes later, Luiz Felipe Scolari had tasted his first defeat in charge in west London, losing a record-breaking unbeaten home run in the process. Cracks soon appeared in his authority and within months he was sacked.

The parallels between the Brazilian's fate and Ancelotti's current predicament are not exact, although that is not necessarily reassuring.

The Italian has, after all, already been defeated once in the Premier League, a tame 3-1 loss at Wigan last weekend, and questions have also been asked of his tactics after two unremarkable performances in the Champions League.

It is ludicrous to speak of a crisis while the season is still in its embryonic stage and Chelsea are still flying high both at home and abroad.

But it was telling that the club owner, Roman Abramovich, saw fit to visit the club's plush training base in Surrey on Friday, speaking briefly with both the first team squad and Ancelotti.

Abramovich rarely ventures to Cobham in completely happy times and it is not inconceivable that he was perturbed at the hesitant nature of Chelsea's last two performances at Wigan and Apoel Nicosia, neither of whom would ordinarily be expected to ruffle Chelsea's feathers.

Ancelotti, for his part, was unconcerned at Abramovich's surprise visit.

"I spoke with Roman and he is normal," he said. "He watched training and said hello to the players. I didn't ask him if he was worried. I think he was happy because his team is (joint) top of the league and top of the group in the Champions League."

The logic is indisputable, although - as always where Chelsea are concerned - it is not quite as straightforward as that.

Chelsea have lost some of the vim and vigour which accompanied their early-season performances, their opponents having resolved - much as they did with Scolari's side last season - to smother the attacking forays of their full-backs, Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa, and stifle Frank Lampard.

The ploys appear to be working. Lampard, so free scoring for so much of his career at Stamford Bridge, has been relatively innocuous this term, having failed to score in open play in any competition, and Chelsea have instead been largely reliant on the exceptional Didier Drogba, who already has six strikes to his name.

Ancelotti, however, insists a solitary training season - the one witnessed by Abramovich, conveniently enough - was enough to iron out any difficulties.

"I saw the game against Apoel and found something that we didn't do well, and we worked to improve that," he said.

"I think we will play better on Sunday. We have done our jobs until now but now we have a big game against a good team."

Liverpool are not without their own difficulties, having slumped to a surprise defeat at Fiorentina in midweek in what Rafael Benitez, the manager, described as one of the worst displays of his Anfield tenure.

With the Merseysiders having already been beaten twice in the Premier League, another set-back at Chelsea would be costly, although Benitez insists nothing will be decided on Sunday.

"Both teams will be desperate to win and hopefully it will be a good game," he said.

"We go there with the idea we can win. We beat them twice last year, but we know Stamford Bridge is a difficult place to go. Both teams will try to win.

"If we can do that it will be two defeats in a row for them, but my idea is still same. It will be a long race."

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