Things weren't thumbs up for Carlo Ancelotti (left) and Co. against Wigan.
(Phil Cole/Getty Images)
Carlo Ancelotti must have been tempted to thumb his nose at the English Premier League rulebook last weekend and send out a Chelsea minion to buy him a couple of packs of cigarettes.
Ancelotti has been unable to indulge his smoking habit since taking over as Chelsea head coach due to EPL regulations, but never can he have felt in greater need of nicotine reinforcement than last Saturday.
Chelsea's 3-1 defeat at Wigan was its first of the season, yet already the alarm bells are ringing around Stamford Bridge.
It was not so much the score line that generated concern, nor the fact it came against an unfancied opponent. No, it was the timid way Ancelotti's millionaire players surrendered in the face of a keen and energetic opponent.
One defeat does not a season make, and it would be ludicrous to write off Chelsea's chances at this early stage. However, captain John Terry saw enough to worry him to launch into an angry postmatch attack on the squad's character.
Whatever your take on this super-talented Chelsea squad is, you can't deny that it is prone to mental weakness and lapses at the most inopportune time. That is why, despite the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United is still a heavy favorite to win yet another EPL crown.
And why, even though Chelsea might have the best-equipped squad for an assault on the Champions League, you can't back the Blues with full confidence.
Ancelotti got his team looking sharp, well-drilled and organized in the opening weeks of the campaign. What he needs is to find a cure for the rare condition that turns his world beaters into also-rans at periodic points of the season.
Cigarettes won't help.
Weekend Best XI
1. Get them an Advil
Or just some swine-flu vaccinations. Plans are afoot to vaccinate every player in Italy's professional divisions against the H1N1 virus, amid fears the swine flu could spread rapidly throughout clubs and cause match cancellations.
2. Get them a beer
Let's hope the New Jersey City University's women's team threw quite the party after snapping an extraordinary 111-game conference winless streak last weekend by beating Rutgers-Newark 5-1. The team had not won since 1994 and had lost 103 straight in the New Jersey Athletic Conference.
3. Get him some earplugs
Nani spent most of Saturday afternoon being told by taunting Stoke City fans that "you'll never be Ronaldo." Yet while the Manchester United youngster does not yet have the full repertoire of moves of the recently departed Cristiano Ronaldo, he showed enough ability in a 2-0 victory to take United to the top of the EPL.
4. Keep an eye on …
Real Mallorca. The team from the vacation island is making waves in La Liga this season, climbing to fourth place in the table under the leadership of coach Gregorio Manzano.
5. Catch a flight to …
Kazan. Pack a warm coat and a pair of boots, then head off into the wilds of Tatarstan to watch Russian champion FC Rubin Kazan welcome Inter Milan this week. The word Kazan is derived from the Tatar word for "cauldron" and that is the kind of atmosphere that awaits Inter as Rubin hosts a Champions League game for the first time.
6. Useless and completely made up statistic of the week
2 – The number of new palaces that Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah al-Saud of Saudi Arabia could have bought with the spare $318 million he has lying around. Instead, he looks set to buy into Liverpool, a move that would effectively end the Anfield club's recent financial uncertainty.
7. Fond farewell
Soccer bids adieu to Sol Campbell this week, after the former England defender turned his back on a lucrative contract with League Two (fourth tier) side Notts County. A return to the sport can not be discounted, especially if anyone is foolish enough to come up with a huge contract offer. But for now, we are happy to see the temperamental 35-year-old slink off into retirement.
8. Get ready to say hello to
Drew Carey. We're going to start seeing and hearing a lot more from the funnyman/soccer nut over the next year, after he agreed to join the bid team that hopes to bring the 2018 or 2022 World Cup to the United States.
9. Get ready to say goodbye to …
10. Get excited about …
Dwight Yorke's new autobiography. If these revelations in British tabloid The News of the World are anything to go by, it should be one heck of a read. Sex, scandal and Roy Keane kung-fu kicking a whiteboard … what's not to like?
11. Why it's good to be a soccer club owner
Take a look at Daria Zhukova, the stunning girlfriend of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.