Sunday 19 November 2017

Mourinho's vision message has Chelsea seeing straight

Chelsea 2 
Leicester City 0

Chelsea's Diego Costa celebrates scoring the opening goal of the game
Chelsea's Diego Costa celebrates scoring the opening goal of the game
Diego Costa
Chelsea's Diego Costa (left) and Leicester City's Liam Moore battle for the ball
Chelsea's Diego Costa (left) and Leicester City's Wes Morgan battle for the ball
Chelsea's Andre Schurrle (L) is challenged by Leicester City's goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel
Chelsea's Andre Schurrle (R) is fouled by Leicester City's Dean Hammond
Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois (R) saves a shot from Leicester City's David Nugent

Dion Fanning

It might have been premature to declare Chelsea champions after an opening-game victory at Burnley last Monday.

For an hour against Leicester City at Stamford Bridge, they struggled and it seemed that a side which had seemed so assured as Premier League favourites last Monday were suffering under the weight of expectation against another promoted side.

Jose Mourinho believes this will be Chelsea's year and at half-time, he explained the situation to his players.

"I wasn't annoyed. I told them if you have the same feeling and vision that I have, we are not in trouble. If you don't have the same feeling and vision, then we are in trouble."

His players responded and in the second half, they articulated Mourinho's vision with a performance of power and pace, led from right-back by the outstanding Branislav Ivanovic and helped by another goal from Diego Costa.

In the first half, Chelsea looked like they were suffering from the same problems that denied them last season, a season Jose Mourinho views differently now it's in the past.

Now it is a title they could have won, but if they had, he might not have been able to spend the summer shaping the team into a side that is recognisably his.

The victory over Leicester is one which ultimately will please him, even if he felt the late-summer sunshine made his players lazy.

This was an important win because it allowed Mourinho to test his players at half-time and it demonstrated that the integration of his new signings alongside the traditional strengths of players like Ivanovic is already effective.

Thibaut Courtois kept Chelsea in the game when it was scoreless with a save which owed much to the aura already surrounding him, while Costa scored the opening goal after 63 minutes before Eden Hazard guaranteed the points. Chelsea have no intention of feeling their way into the season, which made their leggy performance for 45 minutes even more baffling and they looked startled by Leicester's energy. "We wanted to be positive," Nigel Pearson said afterwards.

With only one game a week at the moment, Mourinho was able to name the same starting 11 as last week and he clearly feels they can make the same blistering start that used to be their trademark.

Chelsea won their first nine matches in 2005/06 and were nine points clear by the middle of October and the opening fixtures would have encouraged Mourinho into believing that he could do it again.

Fernando Torres was not on the bench, which led to suggestions that he would be leaving the club before the end of the month, but Mourinho insisted afterwards he wanted him to stay.

The days when Torres arrived full of hope and expectation are a vague and uncomfortable memory, but before the game, the Stamford Bridge crowd hailed their new signings, who would be expected to deliver on the hope and expectation.

They cheered Courtois, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, but when Didier Drogba's name was announced, they roared for the return of an old hero.

Last season, dropped home points derailed Chelsea and it was important that it didn't happen again during their first home game.

"We have a lot of work to do. It's important not to lose points at home," Mourinho said.

Leicester might have retreated to the edge of their box whenever danger was imminent, but they also provided a test for Chelsea's new signings.

Chelsea struggled early on as Leicester worked hard to close down space, with Dean Hammond quickly becoming a familiar presence whenever any Chelsea player attempted to play.

Leicester spent 30 minutes looking to break on the counter-attack, but then became more adventurous. Riyad Mahrez had the first shot on target when Courtois had to make a sharp save.

Mahrez was always a danger, but a frustration, too, as he wasted too many good positions.

Leicester were reminded of their core responsibilities by captain Wes Morgan, who blocked a Costa shot and then made another strong challenge that had Mourinho looking for a penalty and Chelsea began the second half with Mourinho's rhetoric clearing their heads.

Immediately after the restart, Oscar hit the post and Ivanovic drew the first of a series of saves from Kasper Schmeichel.

Leicester returned to their counter-attacking selves, but one of those counter-attacks should have given them the lead when David Nugent was one on one with Courtois. Courtois had already kept Nugent out with his feet, but this was a simpler chance. Nugent tried to pick his spot, but Courtois read it and all Leicester had was a corner.

It wasn't enough as soon Chelsea continued their second-half offensive.

Ivanovic had been a menace and when he stampeded forward, Oscar found him with a fine pass. Ivanovic took a couple of Leicester defenders out of the game and got the ball across to Costa, who was waiting calmly in front of goal. He took the ball on his chest and swept it over the line.

These were the moments he was signed for. "I had a feeling adaptation wouldn't be difficult," Mourinho said. Fabregas, too, was having a greater influence without dominating, as he can.

Hazard scored a fine goal as he cut in from the left and beat a couple of tiring Leicester defenders before driving low past Schmeichel.

Mourinho was now free to send Drogba on. The sentimental wanted a goal for their returning hero, but Mourinho's clear-eyed ambitions for the day had already been met by the players he signed to bring back the title.

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