Lee Dixon: Early signs are Villas-Boas is just what the old guard at Chelsea (and Torres) need

The Weekend Dossier
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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.

Five Asides

1 Mancini will revert to type despite Aguero

There can be little better for the morale of a club and its supporters than a debut like Sergio Aguero's for Manchester City against Swansea on Monday. Everyone – or just about everyone – goes into a season full of optimism and high hopes. You buy a guy like Aguero and there's the expectation – will he match up? Then he comes on and does that. Suddenly the future of Carlos Tevez does not seem such a problem. But do not expect this to signal an absolute change in approach for Roberto Mancini at Eastlands. He is Italian and his football roots are there – that is where he learnt his game. Monday showed they can play expansively but there will be times when he reverts to type. When times are tough it's only natural to go back to what you know best.

2 Fernandes' move has me fretting over prediction

I made my Premier League predictions for the season in last weekend's paper but I never feel entirely comfortable doing them when the transfer window is still wide open. So much can change in two weeks. I tipped QPR to go down but now they have been taken over by Tony Fernandes they could spend a fortune and suddenly it's a very different story.

3 Cavendish can ride all way to SPOTY

My Match of the Day duties stopped me heading out to watch Mark Cavendish and the rest in action in the Olympic road race test event last Sunday. He has already got my vote for Sports Personality of the Year after what he did in the Tour de France. He's got to win it now.

4 Mourinho scores own goal at the Nou Camp

The first I knew of Jose Mourinho's latest headline grabbing was when I opened The Independent yesterday. I couldn't believe it – what he did in Barcelona was outrageous. He is in danger of making people forget all he has achieved as a manager and turning himself into a fool.

5 Neville makes transition to television look easy

It is not easy to step straight off the pitch and be a natural in the TV studio, but then Gary Neville has always been a talker so he more than most should be able to handle it. He seems a natural and there were times when Jamie Redknapp struggled to get a word in – typical of the new boy, he wants to take all the throw-ins, the corners, free-kicks! I still don't feel entirely comfortable doing TV – I still get nervous when that red light goes on. It is like the referee's whistle signalling kick-off – you get a few nerves but you get a buzz as well. On live TV you are always only one word from disaster!

Weekend Fixtures

Sunderland v Newcastle United

Odds: Home 6-5 Draw 9-4 Away 12-5

Kick-off: Today, 12pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Team news John O'Shea (fitness) may be forced to wait for his Sunderland debut but Asamoah Gyan is fit. Tim Krul retains his place in the visitors' goal while Shane Ferguson and Sylvain Marveaux may also feature.

Arsenal v Liverpool

Odds: Home 6-4 Draw 2-1 Away 9-4

Kick-off Today, 12.45pm (Sky Sports 2; Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Team news Arsenal's Gervinho and Alex Song begin three-match suspensions and Jack Wilshere (ankle) remains out. Liverpool have doubts over Glen Johnson (hamstring) but Dirk Kuyt may be recalled.

Aston Villa v Blackburn Rovers

Odds: Home 3-4 Draw 13-5 Away 4-1

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Team news Shay Given has shaken off a groin complaint to take his place in the Villa goal with Alex McLeish likely to name an unchanged side. Blackburn hope to welcome back Ryan Nelsen and Chris Samba.

Everton v Queen’s Park Rangers

Odds: Home 1-2 Draw 3-1 Away 11-2

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Team news Seamus Coleman (ankle) is Everton's only absentee, with Mikel Arteta likely to return. QPR are without Clint Hill (suspension) and Kieron Dyer (ankle) following last weekend's home defeat to Bolton.

Swansea City v Wigan Athletic

Odds: Home 6-5 Draw 9-4 Away 9-4

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Team news Garry Monk (foot) could return for Swansea, while Neil Taylor has completed a suspension and Michel Vorm keeps his place. Steve Gohouri (calf) remains out for Wigan, while Hugo Rodallega may return.

Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion

Odds: Home 3-10 Draw 4-1 Away 10-1

Kick-off Today, 5.30pm (ESPN; Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Team news Petr Cech (knee) begins a month on the sidelines for Chelsea, with Hilario likely to deputise. Romelu Lukaku may make a debut; David Luiz (thigh) remains out. Peter Odemwingie is again doubtful for West Bromwich.

Norwich City v Stoke City

Odds: Home 6-4 Draw 7-4 Away 9-4

Kick-off Tomorrow, 1.30pm (Highlights BBC 2, 10.25pm)

Team news Paul Lambert has worries over Zak Whitbread (knee). Tony Pulis will make changes from the side that won at FC Thun on Thursday. Rory Delap (hamstring) is doubtful, but Matthew Upson may come in.

Wolverhampton Wdrs v Fulham

Odds: Home 13-10 Draw 2-1 Away 9-4

Kick-off Tomorrow, 2pm (Highlights BBC 2, 10.25pm)

Team news Wolves may name the same XI that started the win at Blackburn last weekend. Danny Murphy (groin) should feature for Martin Jol's visitors, but Simon Davies (knee) remains unavailable.

Bolton Wanderers v Manchester City

Odds: Home 4-5 Draw 5-2 Away 4-1

Kick-off Tomorrow, 4pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 2, 10.25pm)

Team news Tuncay could make his Bolton debut following a delay over his work permit, while Ricardo Gardner undergoes a fitness test. Sergio Aguero is pushing for a start for City, while Carlos Tevez may be involved.

Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur

Odds: Home 4-6 Draw 3-1 Away 15-4

Kick-off Monday, 8pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights SS1, 12.30am, Tues)

Team news Patrice Evra (ankle) is back for United, but Nemanja Vidic (calf) and Rio Ferdinand (hamstring) are out. Peter Crouch (ankle) is strug-gling for Spurs, but Luka Modric and Tom Huddlestone could return.

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