Sunday 17 December 2017

Chelsea produce power surge

Chelsea 2 Fulham 0

Dion Fanning

Jose Mourinho's management style depends on a search for enemies. Ideally the enemies are without but during his time at Real Madrid he was consumed by the enemies within.

His first spell as manager of Chelsea ended as he discovered that Roman Abramovich couldn't be challenged but if his return was supposed to be harmonious, that changed last week.

Defeats to Everton and Basel might have created an air of crisis but Chelsea are top of the Premier League for at least a few hours after last night's win against Fulham at Stamford Bridge.

Oscar, the man chosen ahead of Juan Mata, and John Obi Mikel, the man chosen usually in the absence of an alternative, scored the two goals in a comfortable win against Fulham. It was Mikel's first goal in the Premier League.

Mourinho may be right about Mata, who was left out of the squad entirely yesterday. It wouldn't be the first time that the collective opinion was puzzled by a manager who emphasised other values on the pitch. Mata may well be this generation's Glenn Hoddle but what may be more significant is if Mourinho is allowed to be proved right.

Mourinho, like all great managers, craves power in the most spectacular fashion and his statements about Mata last week and his decision to leave him out of the squad yesterday suggest that he is preparing himself for a battle.

Last night, he offered Mata the minor consolation that he would start against Swindon in the League Cup this week.

"I hope he tells me on the pitch, you are wrong, I'm the best. I must play every week," he said as he explained his thinking. Mata's past accomplishments were irrelevant, Mourinho said, pointing out that the player had started against Aston Villa and in the Everton defeat. "The past is the past and you should be judged on what you do now."

Mourinho talked a lot last week about how Chelsea are trying to change their style but despite their reputation, there was very little wrong with the style of his first Chelsea side.

The current Chelsea side is less reliable, which may be why Mourinho has moved Oscar into the centre, a reward for a player who represents what he wants from a team.

Oscar was relentless in his industry yesterday and Mourinho hailed the pragmatic way his side had achieved victory, a reminder to Mata and others that winning is the only way to prevent a crisis and maybe that isn't even enough at Chelsea.

Chelsea were lucky with their opponents yesterday. Fulham could never be accused of being overly ambitious away from home. They hadn't won at Stamford Bridge in 34 years but they should have been ahead in the first half if Darren Bent had done what Darren Bent is supposed to do instead of shooting too close to Petr Cech.

Fulham had started well, with Damien Duff particularly sharp as he signalled his return to Stamford Bridge by running at Ashley Cole, and Steve Sidwell should have done better when he headed over following good work on the right by Duff.

"For the first 50 minutes they were really worried because they couldn't find the space and they couldn't find a solution. In the second half they stepped up a gear," Martin Jol said afterwards.

Oscar's goal came as Chelsea took the game to Fulham. After the home side broke down the left, Fulham goalkeeper David Stockdale saved from Andre Schürrle and Samuel Eto'o, but Oscar knocked the rebound in and the home crowd were relieved. They played with more purpose after that but there were few glimpses of the new winning style.

Mata has entered a period of uncertainty at his club without the usual loss of form. There may be philosophical points about his style of play that are valid but the arrival of Fernando Torres, who replaced Eto'o, was a reminder that there are other players engaged in deeper struggles.

Mourinho may well have been happy that his comments about Mata distracted from the problems with his forwards, problems exacerbated by Chelsea's decision to let Romelu Lukaku leave and their too cunning refusal to let Demba Ba join Arsenal as they felt they were too strong after the signing of Mesut Ozil.

Eto'o struggled again yesterday, although he looked magnificently rested after his spell at Anzhi.

Torres doesn't appear so serene. He was cheered onto the pitch and came close to scoring with a header shortly before John Obi Mikel ensured the three points. For his time on the pitch, he gave a characteristically late Torres performance, full of endeavour and strain and the constant reminder that he will never be the player he once was.

When Mikel hooked in the second goal after a John Terry knockdown, it seemed that Chelsea could be the side they once were. They had won 2-0, as they so often did during Mourinho's golden era.

Mourinho then provided the post-match entertainment, defending his decisions on Sky, then defending English pundits and the English media in his press conference even as he explained he understood how journalism works. "You don't want stability or time, that doesn't sell. What sells is the day I arrive and the day I leave."

He was asked what he had to do to be declared a success at Chelsea this time. After a week of minor battles, he was being asked for his grand vision. Mourinho studied the questioner and then smiled, perhaps revealing how his brain works. "Are you working for the enemy?"

Sunday Independent

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