'Chelsea are better now than days of Special One'

Johnson impressed by former side's progress in short time under Scolari
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The Independent Online

Chelsea are already a more formidable team under Luiz Felipe Scolari than they were under Jose Mourinho, declared Glen Johnson, one of the first players to join the club after Roman Abramovich's takeover in 2003, yesterday. Johnson said that "they seem to have improved even more under Scolari" compared to the man who delivered two Premier League titles in his first two seasons and his successor, Avram Grant.

"They've taken their game to another level and they're looking really sharp," said Johnson who was signed for £6m from West Ham United and went on to make 71 appearances for Chelsea under first Claudio Ranieri and then Mourinho without eversettling at Stamford Bridge.

The 24-year-old England international remains friends, however, with several Chelsea players, including Wayne Bridge and John Terry, and said: "I've heard a lot of good things about Scolari. The lads really like him. Without a doubt, they are the team to beat this season."

Johnson is now at Portsmouth and in two meetings with his former club this season the scorelines read 4-0 and 4-0, with the latest defeat coming on Wednesday evening in the Carling Cup. "They have some fantastic players," Johnson said. "And their movement is frightening."

The movement of Abramovich, the Chelsea owner, is also pretty nifty and the speed with which he – along with the directors Eugene Tenenbaum and Bruce Buck – made their way to the away dressing room at Fratton Park on Wednesday showed just how happy the Russian billionaire is with life under Scolari.

The Brazilian is providing the kind of attractive – and winning – football that Abramovich has always craved at Stamford Bridge and, crucially, he also has the larger-than-life personality that is necessary to be in charge of a club such as Chelsea. After all, there are not too many World Cup-winning managers wandering around the corridors of a ramshackle ground such as Portsmouth's.

There had been some concern, from those who knew Scolari from his days as Portugal coach, that the 59-year-old may not have been going to Chelsea for the right reasons – with money being a greater motivation than success on the pitch. However, so far he has quickly dispelled that theory, tackling his job with great relish, humour and no little style, with Chelsea already playing more attractive, attacking football than they have done for the past four years.

He is also acutely aware that at a club such as the one he is managing every competition is important – and every exit a disaster – which is why he is taking the Carling Cup, so seriously. Fielding Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard in a third-round tie would appear excessive, especially with Michael Essien and Deco injured.

But Scolari is also no fool. While praising the performances of many of his players on Wednesday, he also made the point, interestingly, that Didier Drogba needs to get back to the level he can play at. There was no mollycoddling the striker just as there has been no excessive praise of other players. Scolari knows his mind.

The goalkeeper Petr Cech also played against Portsmouth when, it could have been expected, his under-study Carlo Cudicini would make an appearance. However the Czech Republic international confirmed that Scolari had made clear that he wants to remain as competitive as possible on all fronts, even though the games are coming thick and fast.

"This group of players looks really strong," Cech said. "There's a lot of quality and a lot of experience."

Cech also acknowledged that Chelsea are playing a different brand of football their style under Mourinho or Grant. "The manager has a different philosophy with the system we play and the movement he wants on the pitch," he added. "You can see the difference a little bit this season because we try to play more with the ball. We also have the players to play this style of football."

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