John Terry believes that keeping the Chelsea squad together over the summer has given them the edge over their title rivals. The Chelsea and England captain helped his side get off to a winning start under new coach Carlo Ancelotti yesterday, courtesy of two goals from rejuvenated Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba.
Hull City debutant Stephen Hunt had given the Tigers the lead in the 27th minute, but Drogba equalised ten minutes later with a stunning free-kick from 25 yards. Chelsea had to wait until the second minute of added time for Drogba to score a fluke of a winner. His attempted cross bamboozled Boaz Myhill and dropped into the far corner of the net.
Drogba recently signed a contract extension with Chelsea that will keep him at the club until 2013. The striker's decision to stay, plus new deals for Florent Malouda and John Mikel Obi, have convinced Terry that the stability of their squad could be a crucial element of the title race this season.
"Manchester United have lost Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo, Liverpool have lost Xabi Alonso and Arsenal have lost Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure," he said. "We have re-signed Didier, which is massive. He's just brilliant and a winner and that has been important to Chelsea.
"Malouda and Mikel have also re-signed. Flo had a great second half to last season and has started this time where he left off. The hunger among the boys this year to win the [Barclays] Premier League is as strong as ever," said Terry.
"We want that and the [UEFA] Champions League and, with our squad being held together, there are plenty of reasons for optimism."
Chelsea should have beaten Hull by a bigger margin, but an inspirational display from Myhill prevented Drogba from scoring a hat-trick. But there were worrying signs for Chelsea during their hard-earned success with too much intricate football on the edge of the penalty area leading to frustration among the fans who saw it all last season under Luiz Felipe Scolari. They would have noted the similarities all too clearly as Chelsea searched for their winner and, as so often happened during Scolari's ill-fated reign, the Blues managed to take all three points with a late winner.
Turner and Dawson
Meanwhile, Phil Brown's Hull will continue to provide a stern test for any side in the division. They may have just escaped relegation last season, but City defended superbly against Chelsea. Although Brown was disappointed with the result, he knows the real and more immediate task is hanging on to the likes of Michael Turner and Andy Dawson before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.
Both defenders are coveted by clubs in the top four, with Liverpool especially keen on Turner. They have made one bid for the centre-half, but Brown insists it remains nowhere near City's valuation. The 25-year-old had an awesome battle with Drogba, but won the Chelsea striker's respect with a glowing performance and while Brown is realistic when it comes to the prospect of keeping his top stars, he insists they will not be sold on the cheap.
"You do desperately try and hang on to your better players," said Brown. "People have classed the price tag on Michael Turner as ridiculous at £10m. I think he is worth that to us, it might not be worth that to somebody else, but he is to us.
"As far as we are concerned, that is how big a player he is for us. Michael played 38 games for us last year and never missed a minute. He is being courted by bigger clubs because of the way he can defend.
"Against Chelsea there was another example of that, but not just from him but also from Anthony Gardner and Dawson," he said. "But I thought it was a good collective, defensive performance from us against Chelsea."