Michael Essien insisted Chelsea were the Premiership favourites after Manchester United's Alex Ferguson kicked off the pre-season mind games by casting doubt on their ageing squad.
The Ghana midfielder said the “world-class” experience of players such as Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack and new signing Deco — all aged 30 or more — would give Chelsea the edge in the trophy race.
“For me, only Chelsea. Chelsea is going to win the title,” he said.
“We have got a lot of the best players in the world. They are world-class players and it's a privilege for me to work alongside them.”
Essien said his team-mates had proved they were not “losers” despite last season's heartache of narrowly missing out on both the domestic and European titles to United.
“As you can see in training or during the games, they can always change the games. They have a winning mentality so it's going to be good for us,” he said.
“Hopefully this year we will win more trophies. Last year was unlucky for us, these things happen in football but you just have to forget about it.”
Ferguson opened hostilities as Chelsea's World Cup-winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari prepares for his first match in charge against Guangzhou Pharmaceutical late on Wednesday.
The United boss said “no one” could top the exploits of Jose Mourinho, Scolari's predecessor-but-one at the glamorous London club who assembled much of the current squad.
“Mourinho won the title two years in a row and beat us in the FA Cup final, so there's no one who can improve on his record really,” Ferguson said.
“It's hard to see where there's going to be a big improvement with a team that's really very experienced. 'Plateau' is maybe not the word, but how can they accelerate beyond what they've done up to now?”
Ferguson was confident that United's youth made them title favourites. The two sides face an early-season clash at Stamford Bridge in September.
“I'm not saying necessarily that they're old because, with the modern-day training methods, you should be playing in your thirties,” he said.
“What I am saying is that I don't see outstanding progress in a team that's in their thirties.”
But Essien rejected the comments, also expressed by some supporters. Only three first-team squad members are under 25, and eight are 30 or more.
“I don't know what the fans are thinking about. We've got some quality players,” he said, adding that the ebullient Scolari was also a significant addition.
“He's really strong, he's a big guy and he's a very good coach,” he said. “We're all glad to have him here.”
Essien, who has signed a new five-year deal worth a reported 20 million pounds (40 million dollars), also appealed for unsettled striker Didier Drogba to commit his future as the pre-season begins in earnest.
“We all need him to stay. If he can make up his mind it will be really good for us,” he said.
Chelsea also face China's Chengdu Blades in Macau on Saturday before heading to Malaysia and then Russia for the Railways Cup.
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