Chaos on the Roman road but Mutu shows way ahead

Chelsea 2 Leicester City 1
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The Independent Football

He arrived, features wreathed with smiles, to be feted by the Chelsea throng. But Roman Abramovich discovered long before the end that this messianic role can be a heart-stopping business. The New Blues were excellent in their individual parts but not always as a cohesive force.

While Claudio Ranieri's expensive chic summer collection were decorative enough, with the latest acquisition - at nearly £16m - Adrian Mutu, particularly catching the eye on the catwalk of supermodels, there was much to appreciate about a Leicester team who have largely been assembled from charity shops. Micky Adams's men will be nobody's push-overs this season.

Mutu has arrived last - although according to Ranieri, he was the first name on his list - and been described by the manager as "a snake". It is to be hoped he means in the jungle of élite football; not in the grass. Appropriately, in a game of three second-half dismissals, Alan Rogers and Riccardo Scimeca of Leicester and Chelsea's Géremi, it was the Romanian's venomous strike that won the game after James Scowcroft had cancelled a second- minute own-goal opener for the home team from Lilian Nalis.

The forward, signed from Parma, for whom he scored 18 goals in Serie A last season, possesses a lethal charge in both feet, but with the ability to penetrate the opposition with inventive passing. Even Adams was moved to applaud the goal which Mutu dispatched left-footed on the half-volley after an initial right-footed free-kick had struck the wall: "He had a bit of luck with his first shot, but that's what you pay £15.8m for. Brilliant. I love it."

So will Chelsea's new owner, who appears to have reappraised his decision to maintain a low profile. Before the start, he was hardly Roman Anonovich as he walked the perimeter of the pitch, relishing the acclaim of the faithful. Then we were treated to some Cossack music, presumably to assimilate him into his new environment. It blended almost seamlessly into "Blue is the Colour".

His notes in the match-day programme had the immortal line: "I don't want to change what works." No, he hasn't done much of that. Just a mere five newcomers in the starting line-up here, at an aggregate £61m, before we even begin to consider the likes of Joe Cole on the bench. And there's Hernan Crespo of Internazionale for a reported £25m to follow next week. Leicester have introduced some new faces of their own, of course; 11, of whom five made the cut here. Cost: £100,000 for Steve Howey, the remainder free. Welcome to the equality of the Premiership 2003.

With such an imbalance, the visitors did not need to aid the Chelsea cause early on, but did precisely that. Damien Duff forced a corner on the right and Juan Veron's kick was deflected on by Leicester's John Curtis to his team-mate and another close-season signing, the French midfielder Nalis, who headed the ball past his own goalkeeper, Ian Walker.

Yet, thereafter until the interval, Adams's team smothered much of that initial home fire. Only Frank Lampard and Mutu kept Walker's hands warm. The visitors' self-belief increased by the minute, and it surprised no one when, five minutes before the break, a former Chelsea player, Muzzy Izzet, swung across an excellent free-kick for Scowcroft to equalise with a looping header. It was perhaps the stab with a pointed stick that Chelsea needed, though it took something exceptional from Mutu to restore the Londoner's lead just before the break.

Until then, Damien Duff had been Chelsea's most potent threat with his assaults on the visitors' rearguard while Mutu, playing off Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, began to demonstrate his prowess. The Romanian was again prominent when he released Hasselbaink. Walker missed his clearance and the Dutchman, from an acute angle, struck the near post.

Until halfway through the second half, it had been a game utterly devoid of malice. Then the impetuous Géremi dived in, studs up, at Scimeca, and was correctly dismissed by the referee, Rob Styles. It prompted a rash of cards of both colours. Leicester's Rogers followed after kicking the Chelsea substitute Jesper Gronkjaer on the ground; Scimeca received two cautions and made the long walk. Shock of shocks, neither manager condemned a referee who had been verbally savaged by Glenn Hoddle only last Saturday.

Leicester, even with nine men, did not capitulate. Scowcroft and the substitute Brian Deane both headed over, the latter from an inviting position. At the death, Cole, off the substitutes' bench, might have increased Chelsea's advantage but nearly demolished the bar instead.

His team's championship prospects remain undamaged, though, as Ranieri opined: "I was very surprised with our performance at Liverpool. This was normal." Or, as he might have declared, Roman's world won't be built in a day.

Chelsea 2
Nalis og 3, Mutu 45

Leicester City 1
Scowcroft 40

Half-time: 2-1 Attendance: 41,073

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