Signs are Villas-Boas is what Chelsea's strong dressing room needs

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The Independent Online

I would love to be able to be part of the Chelsea dressing room right now. It's always interesting when a new manager comes in and even more so with Andre Villas-Boas – he could not go into a stronger dressing room than the one at Stamford Bridge.

His appointment was refreshing, and away from the norm for Chelsea in recent times. For a football pundit it's fascinating – there are so many intriguing angles to look at over the coming months.

There has to be a degree of caution at this stage after only one game and with two weeks of the transfer window remaining. So much can change with a couple of signings. Will Mata come in? Will they finally get Modric?

But from the evidence of the team sheet at Stoke on Sunday, the Portuguese is a man who is prepared to make the big decisions. Leaving Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka out of the starting line-up – and playing Fernando Torres – made an immediate statement.

A manager needs to put his stamp on things from the first training session, although it will usually take longer to see changes coming through on the pitch. I can picture that first morning, the players standing there, arms folded, guarded; looking at the new man – right, what have you got?

It will have helped that to some extent he knows the players from his previous time with the club, but there would still be that element of the unknown. As a player you are waiting to be impressed but there is also that worry at the back of your mind. Will the new man rate me?

Chelsea have strong, experienced characters in their dressing room – John Terry, Frank Lampard, Drogba. And what makes it even more intriguing is that they are around the same age as their new manager. Villas-Boas must not let age become an issue. His demeanour has to be right – he has to let the players know the pecking order.

The success he has already had at the age of 33 suggests he has huge confidence in his own abilities. A first game at Stoke is not a place you would choose to start and a point is not a bad result at all – Stoke are a strong side. It was not until the second half when Stoke tired that Chelsea got their passing game going. The signs in that second period were good.

Half-time is a big moment for any manager and no doubt over the season we will discover something of what Villas-Boas is like in the dressing room. Will he be the direct sort like Jose Mourinho? Or will he be more like Arsène Wenger was in his first few seasons at Arsenal?

Wenger used to let us come in at half-time and do most of the talking, let the team mull over what had gone wrong or what we thought needed to change. Then for the final couple of minutes he would take over, detail something on the board or tell us an area that we had to sort out – so we went out for the second half with what he wanted at the front of our minds.

There was one element of Chelsea's performance at Stoke that was definitely hugely encouraging for Villas-Boas, and possibly hugely significant too – Fernando Torres. The manager and the rest of the squad would have had a pretty good idea of what sort of touch he was in – you see it on the training pitch – but for the rest of us that was the first indication that the predatory goalscorer we saw for those first three seasons at Liverpool is back.

The sharpness was there again. He looked a completely different player to last season, when he constantly looked like he was struggling with the after-effects of injury and a World Cup hangover. He looked all wrong on the pitch.

The change that was evident at the Britannia Stadium is down to the work on the training field. Sharpness comes back through doing the hard slog in between matches. If you were as out of sorts as Torres was last season you can't just turn it on in a game – or be expected to turn it on come match day. He's clearly done the work and Chelsea and Villas-Boas stand to benefit.

The side Villas-Boas picked at Stoke last weekend was pretty similar to last season, certainly in formation, and they played in pretty much the same way too. Much has been made of the dressing room getting old and that is certainly one of the questions that he needs to address. So far this summer it is noticeable they have signed a number of younger players like Romelu Lukaku. Michael Essien will be a big miss for them and it will be interesting to see how Frank Lampard goes. As a player, age creeps up on you suddenly – and it is not always easy to admit what's happening either. You start to think about self-preservation. Lampard is an intelligent footballer and I'm sure he will work out if he needs to tailor his game. But then maybe a change of regime will help breathe new life into old legs.

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