Chelsea 2 Portsmouth 0: Mourinho's men continue march to title without stirring the soul

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The Independent Football

It did not save Ranieri and, when the trophies are counted, few could dispute that his replacement by Jose Mourinho was a masterstroke. But five-goal performances have been elusive, Chelsea only reaching that mark once in Mourinho's 99 matches, at home to 10-man Bolton in October.

Goals are not the only measure of entertainment - Blackburn's 1994-95 championship success was goal-laden but rarely enthralling. And Chelsea have frequently hit four. Yet there is a sense that they are failing to stir the soul the way Arsenal can, or Barcelona. If this is a tall order, the scale of Abramovich's investment demands it. It is not for want of flair players.

Among those who laboured to defeat Portsmouth at Stamford Bridge on Saturday were Arjen Robben, Joe Cole, Damien Duff and Shaun Wright-Phillips - for 30 freakish minutes all at the same time. During this period the Pompey keeper Dean Kiely was required to make just one serious save from open play.

Until Eidur Gudjohnsen arrived to inject imagination, one could only marvel at the fortitude, and deep pockets, of another full house that had paid £45-£60 per head (with reductions for members).

Indeed, with three of Saturday's five Premiership matches reportedly dull ones (St Andrew's and The Valley being the other soporific venues), the top flight's continuing capacity to attract large crowds at high prices is a modern marketing miracle. Given the cost of relegation no one would have expected Birmingham and Sunderland to focus on entertainment but Chelsea, being the champions and runaway leaders, ought to be a cut above.

The problem is not the personnel, it is the method. Watching the midweek Champions' League tie, the thought occurred that Barcelona's players are liberated in a way that Chelsea's, under Mourinho's authoritarian regime, are not. Deco made the right choice when he spurned Chelsea for Catalonia. And what might Joe Cole - withdrawn again on Saturday - achieve in such an environment?

Mourinho kept his own counsel on Saturday, but Steve Clarke, his assistant, defended the approach. "If you add style and lose substance, and finish second, we don't want that, we want to be champions," he said.

Referring specifically to the match, he said: "You have to accept when you played previously with 10 men there will be a physical reaction, losing the way we did [to Barcelona] there has to be a mental reaction. I think it shows great character within the squad that we can still get the result against opponents who made it hard for us. That's why we'll be champions again."

No one doubts the character of this Chelsea team, and Lyon's 4-1 defeat at home to Rennes, after winning at PSV Eindhoven, highlights the perils of a Champions' League hangover. Yet the reference to tiredness is strained. Only three outfield players, Paulo Ferreira, John Terry and Frank Lampard, played all 180 minutes of both games.

Not that Chelsea were solely guilty. Portsmouth came for a point. After taking one from the previous 15 that may be understandable, but they are eight points adrift of safety. As Harry Redknapp, their manager, admitted later, in reference to next week's trip to Villa Park: "We've got to attack. It's no good shutting up shop. We need to win games away."

Chelsea away is a task of a higher magnitude, but when the centre-half is a moonlighting centre-forward (Azar Karadas) a clean sheet is never likely. Perhaps, when Mourinho replaced the hapless Asier del Horno with Duff, Redknapp should have brought on Wayne Routledge to test the makeshift left-back. He did after Chelsea scored and Routledge skipped by Duff at will, making a chance from which Richard Hughes should have equalised. " It's easy to say that with hindsight," Redknapp said.

His nephew inevitably scored the opening goal, Lampard driving in after Gudjohnsen neatly dummied Didier Drogba's cross. Gudjohnsen then cleverly released Robben for a smart finish to secure victory.

"At half-time Jose told them 'you have to win, how you win it is not as important as winning it'," said Clarke. It might be if he paid £60 to watch it.

Goals: Lampard (65) 1-0; Robben (78) 2-0.

Chelsea (4-1-2-3): Cech; Paulo Ferreira, Huth, Terry, Del Horno (Duff, 31); Essien; J Cole (Gudjohnsen, 60), Lampard; Wright-Phillips (Makelele, 60), Drogba, Robben. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Johnson.

Portsmouth (4-4-2): Kiely; Primus, Karadas, O'Brien, Taylor; O'Neil, Mendes, Hughes (Davis, 72), Koroman (Routledge, 68); LuaLua, Mwaruwari. Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), D'Alessandro, Todorov.

Referee: M Riley (Yorkshire).

Booked: Portsmouth LuaLua.

Man of the match: Gudjohnsen.

Attendance: 42,254.

* Chelsea last night said they have started re-laying the pitch after three home games in six days. They hope to complete the work before their next home match, against Spurs on 11 March.

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