The opening fixture of the new season does not always give the best clues as to how successful a team may be in the coming campaign, but Chelsea’s impressive victory over last season’s overachievers Portsmouth certainly made their rivals stand up and take note on Sunday afternoon. It was the country’s first insight into how new manager Luiz Felipe Scolari is to set up the team, and what ideas he will implement onto the club’s players, and boy did the results look exciting.
Whist fellow title contenders Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United all looked rusty on their first day back in the Premier League; Chelsea hit the ground running with a stylish performance that has been a rarity in recent times at Stamford Bridge. Scolari’s reign certainly got off to a blistering start.
No manager should ever change his winning methods, and Scolari has been wise to implement the tactics and formation that guided Brazil to the World Cup title in 2002 and Portugal to the Euro 2004 final, the World Cup 2006 semi-finals and the Euro 2008 quarter-finals. He has never coached a nation to an unsuccessful international tournament, and that is why England were so keen to appoint him as their new boss only a few years ago. And the club stage does not look to have irked him at all either.
Scolari’s football philosophy is based on attack. The full-backs should venture forward at every opportunity, and midfielders in particular are encouraged heavily to get forward in attacks and provide the strikers with brilliant support. The offensive system will work even better at Chelsea than it would at most other clubs, because of the vast amount of quality attackers available at Stamford Bridge.
Jose Boswinga and Ashley Cole provide two full-backs, one left and one right, that were already suited to getting forward to join in with attacks before Scolari arrived, and that has allowed them to comfortably settle in to the Portuguese manager’s style of play. And at the other end of the pitch, the likes of Frank Lampard, Deco, Joe Cole and Michael Ballack give Scolari the perfect tools for the job as he aims to fulfil Roman Abramovich’s ambition of Chelsea winning whilst playing beautifully. All of those players, as well as Florent Malouda and Shaun Wright-Phillips when they are called upon, will be instructed to use their forward instincts to the full. And when fit again, Didier Drogba should be the prolific striker that spearheads this carnival of creativity to great effect.
No team can achieve success without a solid backbone though, and thankfully for Chelsea Scolari’s system allows for an anchoring midfielder to break up opponents’ attacks and set up his side’s own moves. On Sunday against Portsmouth this position was taken up by John Obi Mikel, who performed fantastically in the new role, though the Nigerian will have to wait and see if the injured Michael Essien eventually seals that starting place permanently on his return. And of course, behind him lies the formidable central defensive partnership of John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho, whose quality can only be matched by that of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic at Manchester United. Petr Cech isn’t a half bad goalkeeper either.
Everything clicked into place on Sunday for Chelsea and their new formation, but supporters must not get carried away just yet. Tougher tests are certainly still to come, and the trip up north to Wigan next Sunday will even provide more of a challenge than a weak Portsmouth team did at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea’s victory was made to look easy mainly because of their own endeavours though, and not Portsmouth’s poor performance.
Scolari’s men closed the ball at every opportunity, and never gave their opponents from the south coast any chance to get the ball down and form their own attacks. Portsmouth were the complete opposite. They let Chelsea’s players pass to each other at will, and there seemed to be no particular effort to press the ball. Crouch and Defoe were defended out of the game by the home side’s defence, and none of their attacking midfielders did anything to worry them either.
Four of Chelsea’s prime charms scored on Sunday, in Joe Cole, Lampard, Anelka and Deco, and Mikel performed exceptionally in his new defensive midfield position. The new system worked wonderfully in its first test, but whether it will withstand the forces of Manchester United is yet to be seen. The season is a marathon though, and against most Premier League teams this formation may prove successful enough to fire Chelsea back to the top of the world’s greatest league.
Scolari certainly enjoyed the first of the thirty-eight matches anyway.