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Jul 23, 2009

Chelsea's Ancelotti looking to settle a score

It's as if Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti is simply running down a checklist as his squad rolls through its U.S. tour. Easy win in an MLS friendly: The Blues bested the Seattle Sounders 2-0 on July 18 to cross this one off the list. Beat former intracity rival -- and more importantly managerial rival -- Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan squad: The Blues looked in top preseason form against the Nerazzurri, scoring early and dominating the match for a 2-0 victory. End the John Terry transfer speculation: If reports are to be believed, this saga is all but over. The next -- and possibly biggest -- to-do? Come away with a win over former club AC Milan. The teams will meet Friday night for a sold-out game at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium (8 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN360.com)
. "It's kind of a friendly game, but I think our coach wants to win because he's playing against his former club," Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien said via a phone interview. "I don't think he'll want to lose that game." The feeling is mutual for AC Milan, which, despite coming to a "mutual agreement" to terminate Ancelotti's contract May 31, would certainly like nothing more than to come away with a win over its former manager and his new squad. While Ancelotti parted on relatively good terms with his Rossoneri players and staff (the same can't necessarily be said for his relationship with AC Milan president Silvio Berlusconi), midfielder Ronaldinho is undoubtedly willing to lead the charge against his ex-coach after recently lamenting Ancelotti's decision not to play him. However, as Ronaldinho and his teammates displayed Wednesday night, the Rossoneri are not where they need to be. AC Milan was outplayed in its 2-1 loss to Club America in Atlanta. The Brazilian midfielder showed flashes of the creative abilities that made him one of the highest-paid athletes in the world, but it was also apparent that he's not yet in full form. AC Milan (and U.S.) fans got their first glimpse of Oguchi Onyewu in a Rossoneri uniform in the second half. The 6-foot-5 defender fared well considering he had just one day of practice with the team, and he is likely to see additional playing time Friday. AC Milan coach Leonardo plans to use this opportunity to tinker with the lineup.

WFC schedule
Friday, July 24
AC Milan vs. Chelsea
M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
8 p.m. ET, ESPN, ESPN360.com Sunday, July 26
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
"In the United States, we'll certainly try new, alternative things," he said on the team's Web site. "We'll try a different system with different players in different roles." So it won't be surprising if the lineup against Chelsea is different from Wednesday's, and if both are significantly changed by the time the team begins Serie A play, especially as the team continues to look to make moves. The Rossoneri's bid for Luis Fabiano appears to have stalled, but options remain. "The market is open until Aug. 31," Leonardo said. "At the moment, we're working with what we got. The team already has many good things. We'll see later if we will be able to add something more." Right now, AC Milan's focus is on the games immediately ahead of it. "In this American adventure, we will play important teams that we know well, especially our friend Ancelotti's Chelsea and Inter, who are our great rivals," Leonardo said. "These matches will allow us to put in practice the work done over these last weeks." The game against Club America made clear that more practice is necessary for AC Milan. If opening games are any indication, Chelsea should be the favorite after its performance Tuesday night. A goal by Didier Drogba put the team up early, and a penalty kick by Frank Lampard five minutes into the second half squelched any hopes of an Inter Milan comeback. Recently acquired forward Daniel Sturridge is quickly proving himself with the Blues after a pair of strong outings. Chelsea was propelled defensively by Terry and defender Ricardo Carvalho, both obviously unaffected by the transfer rumors swirling around them. "We don't really listen to what's going on outside the pitch," Essien said. "We know there's a lot of speculation going on out there, but we don't listen to it. We just go about our work." The team does have work left to do, but the Blues' results in stateside friendlies have been promising. Essien said he was encouraged by the team's training and with what has been a relatively smooth managerial transition. That's good news for Ancelotti considering Chelsea's demonstrated lack of patience when it comes to coaches. The Italian is the fifth man to take the helm at Stamford Bridge since Mourinho's departure in 2007, but so far, Ancelotti has reason to be optimistic. A win over AC Milan would leave the Blues as the only team with two tournament victories and set up a de facto championship final game against Club America (one win, one shootout win). While the outcome of a preseason tournament might mean little when the real focus is on bringing home a Champions League title, it's still not a bad way to enter a season. If Chelsea can come away from Friday's game victorious, that should leave just one item on Ancelotti's list before heading back over the Atlantic: Win the World Football Challenge. Maria Burns Ortiz covers college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She can be reached at mariamburns@gmail.com.

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