LONDON, September 11 – Carlo Ancelotti is wise enough to have known his perfect start to Premier League life would never last but even he could not have anticipated the crisis that threatens to overshadow Chelsea's season.Ancelotti’s side face Stoke this weekend seeking the fifth successive league victory that would maintain their 100 percent start to the season and consolidate their position at the head of the table.
But whatever the outcome of the game, the issue that will dominate matters at Stamford Bridge for the coming weeks is the potential impact of the FIFA-imposed transfer ban imposed because of alleged irregularities in the way the club signed French teenager Gael Kakuta from Lens.
Chelsea have vowed to fight the ban that would force Ancelotti to work with his existing group of players until January 2011, but with FIFA president Sepp Blatter talking tough, that threatens to be a long, drawn-out battle.
And in the meantime, every game Chelsea play will be scrutinised for any perceived weaknesses Ancelotti is now unable to fix simply by wielding owner Roman Abramovich’s legendary chequebook.
The Italian coach declared himself satisfied with his squad in the run up to the most recent transfer deadline on September 1, knowing he could take action and bring in new faces should he have revised that opinion when the January window came around.
But with that opportunity now gone, pending the appeal, and the club suddenly thrust under the microscope, Ancelotti must rouse his men for what is likely to be a searching examination at the Britanna Stadium.
Stoke may not be pretty, relying heavily on the threat posed by their physical presence at set-pieces, but their approach has proved extremely effective against the bigger teams who have found that there is no such thing as a comfort zone when facing the Potters.
And having reflected warmly on his initial experiences of the Premier League this week when he compared the English game favourably with that in Italy, it will be interesting to see whether Ancelotti still holds such a rose-tinted view when this particular 90 minutes draws to a close.
"There are differences," he said, "but everyone has their own way to prepare for a match. The difference that I see here in England is that there isn’t so much pressure on the matches.
"It is something nice and interesting to see here. I like it because all the stadiums are full and work very well. It’s a very positive experience.
"On a tactical level there is much more intensity in the game in England, but less tactical skills in comparison to Italian teams."
Stoke have already secured two home league victories this season and manager Tony Pulis – who will be joined in the dugout by new assistant manager Peter Reid, the former Thailand coach – strengthened well during the transfer window.
Former Chelsea defender Robert Huth could partner fellow newcomer Danny Collins in the heart of the defence while Ricardo Fuller and Dave Kitson will continue up front in the expected absence of James Beattie.
As ever this season, Ancelotti’s main selection issues will centre around who should fill the four midfield places, and Pulis believes Chelsea have already confirmed their standing as title contenders, irrespective of who features in the starting line-up.
"We had a great home record last year and Chelsea were the only team who came to our place and won with a bit to spare," said the Stoke manager.
"We didn’t stop certain aspects of their game and got punished, which will so often be the case when you are playing one of the best teams in the world.
"Our aim will be to stay in the game for an hour and, if we can do that, I think we will have a great chance of getting something.