Chelsea prepares to dominate again

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Chelsea ran away with the Premier League title by 12 points in Jose Mourinho's first year as manager.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:54 IST
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Chelsea ran away with the Premier League title by 12 points in Jose Mourinho's first year as manager. The Blues could be even more dominant this season as they try to become the first back-to-back English champions other than Manchester United since 1984. "Chelsea will be better this season than they were last season, I am absolutely convinced of that," said chief executive Peter Kenyon, who left the same position at United to join Chelsea in Sept. 2003. "The winner of the Premier League will come from a small bunch of one," he added. "There will be another two who are trying to compete against us, and I'm sure there will be another couple who are trying to put pressure on those two." Turnaround for Chelsea The Premier League title and the League Cup last season were the first returns on the investment of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, who bought the club two years ago. He turned Chelsea from a perennial underachiever into a title contender by spending hundreds of millions of dollars to clear debt and buy nearly a dozen new players – turning the transfer market on its head. "Everyone knows they can afford to pay any wages," Newcastle striker Alan Shearer said. "I really can't see anyone stopping Chelsea." While Chelsea's transfer activity has been relatively modest this offseason, when the Blues want a player – they usually get him. Negotiation worries Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho says being the dominant force in the transfer market has its downside. "I think it's difficult because of the level of player we want," Mourinho said. "They don't want to sell, they make it difficult and sometimes ask for crazy prices. I think buying players for Chelsea is the hardest job in the league because of our quality." Mourinho, the self-styled "Special One" who made headlines last season for his brash attitude, doesn't appear to have mellowed during the offseason. "We have one of the best squads in Europe," Mourinho said. "I don't know which team is the second one." Chelsea has a way to go to match the achievements of Man United. Since the Premier League formed in 1992, the Red Devils have won the league eight times, the Champions League once and the FA Cup four times. Chelsea's record during the same period: two FA Cups and the now defunct Cup Winners Cup in 1998. Focus on wining But Alex Ferguson's team is faltering – finishing third last year for the third time in four seasons, and Mourinho is ready to take advantage. Instead of United, players want to go to Chelsea. The Blues have at least two world class players in every position after spending US$54 million in the offseason on Shaun Wright-Phillips, Asier del Horno and Lassana Diarra. That's at least US$17 million more than any other English club. The transfer figure could increase if Lyon midfielder Michael Essien joins by the start of the season on Aug. 13. Chelsea also has Hernan Crespo back from his loan at AC Milan. Mourinho has given the Argentine striker the coveted No. 9 jersey in a bid to improve his shattered confidence following his first stint at Chelsea in 2003-04 under former manager Claudio Ranieri. "I wasn't depressed, but when I finished the season I thought seriously about leaving football," Crespo said. "I didn't need to hear a lot of words to persuade me to come here. For me it was enough that he (Mourinho) wanted me. I feel the manager has confidence in me." Scott Parker, Mikael Forssell and Mateja Kezman all left the club. Chelsea also failed to sign Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, who decided not to leave Merseyside. "I think it is Gerrard's loss more than Chelsea's," Mourinho said. "Why? Because Chelsea have good solutions; a good team with the conditions to improve and a club which will be one of the best in the world in a short period of time." Eyes on future A large squad should help in the one area that Mourinho desperately wants to conquer again – Europe. He won the UEFA Cup and the Champions League at Portuguese club Porto, but Chelsea was upset by eventual champion Liverpool in the semifinals last season. Chelsea's season starts Sunday when it plays FA Cup winner Arsenal in the Community Shield – the traditional preseason curtain raiser – at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Chelsea has only beaten Arsenal once in their last 20 meetings. (AP)

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