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Ancelotti confident additions make Chelsea stronger

Carlo Ancelotti spoke yesterday of his plans for Chelsea's long-term future, with the club enjoying a period of extended domination of English football.

Crossroads, though, might appear a more appropriate soap opera to describe the champions right now, with five senior players having left the club, who have lost four games in a row in pre-season.

The double winners have seen Ricardo Carvalho this week follow Joe Cole, Michael Ballack, Juliano Belletti and Deco out of Stamford Bridge. In their place, only two have been recruited: Yossi Benayoun from Liverpool and Ramires from Benfica, whose £18.3m move was finalised yesterday.

The other gaps in the squad are to be filled by members of the FA Youth Cup winning team, although the Santos striker Neymar remains a target, despite the Brazilian club's threats about reporting Chelsea to FIFA.

As the champions prepared to begin their Premier League title defence today at home to newly promoted West Bromwich Albion, their manager acknowledged that the loss of so many senior players might appear to have weakened his squad individually, but he declared his goal to be making Chelsea stronger collectively, while rejuvenating the squad from within.

“Our aim is to be stronger as a team, as a group, and to put individual skills together to be better than last year,” he said.

The arrival of Ramires will provide some cover in midfield, an area where Chelsea lost four players during the close season.

Ancelotti said: “He is a fantastic player. He is a fantastic midfielder. He will be the future of the Brazilian national team and I hope he will be the future of Chelsea.

“He is very dynamic, he moves up and down on the pitch. He can play in all the midfield positions and he is very young. He played the last game for Brazil as a defensive midfielder. At Benfica he played as a right midfielder. He is a complete player.”

Despite the changes at Chelsea, the core remains solid in John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Petr Cech. Ancelotti predicted this season will be harder than the last one, but also said his relationship with the players will have improved.

“We have less doubt compared to the start of last year because I have a better relationship with my players and my club,” he said.

“They know me and I know them. For this reason I think we can improve.”

Belfast Telegraph