PRESTON, January 22 – Carlo Ancelotti’s promise to deliver success with style will face its latest challenge when the Italian's Chelsea side travel north to face Championship outfit Preston North End on Saturday.
At stake for both sides is a place in the FA Cup fifth round and for Preston, the chance to pull off one of the most memorable results in the club’s recent history.
Ancelotti, though, will be looking for more than a mere victory after setting his side the daunting challenge of maintaining the outstanding form they showed in last weekend’s 7-2 demolition of Sunderland.
That victory came immediately after the 5-0 thrashing of Preston’s Championship colleagues Watford in the third round of the competition.
And as if the visit of Ancelotti’s free-scoring side wasn’t daunting enough for North End, Chelsea are likely to head to Deepdale nursing a sense of grievance after being toppled from their position at the head of the Premier League table by Arsenal this week.
Arsene Wenger’s side moved ahead on goals scored following their 4-2 defeat of Bolton.
And while Chelsea still have a game in hand on their London rivals, the shift in positions will crank the title race up another gear.
Against that background, Ancelotti will be determined to oversee another confidence-boosting victory and reinforce the claim he made following the home victory over Fulham at the end of the December that Chelsea have turned the corner after a dip in form.
The Italian will once again be without his African stars with the likes of Didier Drogba still on Africa Cup of Nations duty while Ghana’s Michael Essien is back at the club receiving treatment on a knee injury.
Twelve goals in two games suggests Drogba has not been missed with first Daniel Sturridge and then Nicolas Anelka filling the gap impressively in Chelsea’s two games without the Ivorian.
Ashley Cole and John Terry will be fit to start after being withdrawn as a precaution at half-time against Sunderland.
Terry in particular can expect a testing physical encounter at Deepdale when he will encounter Preston’s burly striker Jon Parkin.
Parkin will lead the North End attack as the home side attempt to mark new manager Darren Ferguson’s second game in charge with a shock victory to rival Leeds United’s defeat of Manchester United in the third round.
If Ferguson, the son of United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, has identified a way of springing a surprise, he is not owning up to it.
"I don’t know how we can beat them, you tell me," said the manager. "We are aware of how good Chelsea are as a team and their performance last week was magnificent.
"It’s a simple fact and an old cliche that if we are at our maximum and they are not then we stand a chance and that is what we have to hope happens on Saturday."
And he added: "My first home game in charge couldn’t get any harder. I suppose people will say we have nothing to lose but we will go into it and try and win it."
Preston’s form suggests there is little chance of a shock with North End having won one of their last eleven league games.
Ferguson’s principal task is to revive the club’s campaign and halt a slide towards the bottom three and he knows an eye-catching result against Chelsea will have a wider impact on the Preston’s fortunes.
"A victory would bring confidence and belief back into the squad," he said. "We are a bit short of that so it is massive in terms of that. If we got the right result with that them I’m sure we could kick on."