Reuters Soccer Blog

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Soccer Break Wednesday

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SOCCER-EURO/Happy middle of the week to you all, and if like me you are in London where the sun is out and there is very little football to write about, you are forgiven for thinking the season is over and the grasscourt tennis season is about to kick in.

Don’t look so worried, David (right). While the weather will probably change before I’ve finished writing this blog, the good news is it’s only March and there is plenty more football left. It’s just this week it’s the international break.

One of the most intriguing matches is Friday’s qualifier between Serbia and Northern Ireland. Why? There will be no supporters in the ground after Serbia’s clash with Italy in October was abandoned following crowd trouble and the 2006 World Cup winners were handed a 3-0 win.

Also in action on Friday are Italy, France and the 2010 World Cup finalists Spain and the Netherlands, while on Saturday Wales host England in a British Isles derby and Norway host Denmark in a Scandinavian battle. Germany and Russia are two other big names playing.

Reports of Chelsea’s decline are greatly exaggerated

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SOCCER-ENGLAND/Former Chelsea midfielder Tony Cascarino must be in the running for an award for biggest over-reaction by a football pundit.

Cascarino told Sky Sports that Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti is now fighting to hang on to his job, after the Blues lost two out of their last three games, including a particularly humiliating 3-0 defeat by Sunderland at the weekend.

Settled Anelka making the difference for Chelsea

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Nicolas Anelka’s arrival at Chelsea in January last year hardly had the fans buzzing amid all the big-money signings since Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich transformed the fortunes of the west London club.

The peripatetic France striker seemed like a stop-gap and few expected him to be part of Chelsea’s long-term future.

First round of the title battle: United v Arsenal, Aug 29

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The new Premier League season kicks off on August 15 and the first real eye-catching fixture is at Old Trafford a fortnight later when Arsenal visit champions Manchester United for the first twist in the title race.

United manager Alex Ferguson will clash with new Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti at Stamford Bridge on November 7, two weeks after visiting rivals Liverpool at Anfield.

Do Juventus or Milan have the next Guardiola?

There is nothing new about putting expensively assembled football teams into the hands of former players with glorious on-field pasts and little coaching experience. But I think it’s fair to say that Pep Guardiola’s remarkable success in his maiden season in the Barcelona dugout contributed to AC Milan and Juventus recently appointing novice managers Leonardo and Ciro Ferrara.

Juve’s Italy defender Nicola Legrottaglie said he sees Ferrara as “the Italian response to Guardiola”. Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani, meanwhile, preferred to compare Leonardo to the precedent they set with Fabio Capello, who like the Brazilian was a club director before his 1991-96 stint in charge that produced four Serie A titles and a Champions League.

Is Ancelotti the right man for Chelsea?

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As impressive as two Champions League triumphs are, Chelsea’s appointment of former AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti will not leave their Premier League title rivals quaking in their boots.

Ancelotti ended his reign at Milan on Sunday after eight years, following top flight stints at Parma and Juventus, all of which amounted to just one Serie A scudetto.

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