Chelsea 4 Portsmouth 0: Scolari's 'beautiful game' brings joy to Chelsea
Monday 18 August 2008
As a former manager of Brazil, Luiz Felipe Scolari will be used to steamrollering the occasional opponent but it would be fair to say that even a French Guyana team in the midst of an injury-crisis and struggling with self-esteem issues would have put up a better fight than Portsmouth. First day of the season and Big Phil's team filled their boots.
This is how the Chelsea hierarchy dreamed it when they signed up Scolari: Stamford Bridge bathed in sunshine, the full-backs overlapping like it was the 1970 World Cup final and Deco slamming one in the top corner from 30 yards. It will not be like this every week of course but at least the first game went to plan and, unlike Avram Grant's empty promises of a bold new attacking team, Scolari does seem to have changed some of the fundamentals that made Chelsea so unlovable in the past.
From the moment that Joe Cole buried the first goal on 12 minutes, Chelsea's full-backs were getting forward like never before – to the extent that Ashley Cole might have required directions to get back to his normal spot at left-back. When Nicolas Anelka headed the second on 26 minutes the game was over, although there was a touch more joy about the football than is usually the case when Chelsea obliterate the opposition in the first half hour.
It was, Scolari said, "a beautiful game" that Chelsea will now be expected to repeat every week. "We have to keep this going," he said. "We can. Every game, every week." His argument that his players were given the freedom to interpret their roles rang true. "We're not playing like Brazil – Lampard is not Brazilian, he's English," the Chelsea manager said. "Ballack's style is different, as is Deco's... I ask my players to hold their position but to play to their style."
They were stylish indeed, sufficiently so to warrant a dressing room visit from Roman Abramovich after the game. Frank Lampard marked his new contract with the third goal from the penalty spot and the £9m spent on Deco looked good value even before his 88th-minute goal. John Obi Mikel just edged Deco out as the game's outstanding player, the holding midfielder giving nothing away in front of the defence.
Early days yet for Portsmouth but yesterday's performance was insipid. Harry Redknapp bemoaned defending that was "like a nine-year-old's" and cited an injury crisis that forced him to play Younes Kaboul in the centre of midfield. It is safe to say that the former Tottenham central defender is no Paul Scholes but it is the lack of width that makes Portsmouth so predictable. With Papa Bouba Dioup and Nico Kranjcar anonymous on the flanks, Pompey scarcely put one decent cross in for Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch.
It was a miserable day for Portsmouth's two marquee names, who found themselves stifled at every turn by John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho. The money has dried up for Redknapp, which is perhaps why the stories that suggest he would like a move back to West Ham will not go away. Given that this is a man who went from Pompey to Southampton and then back again, nothing is impossible despite his denials yesterday that the grass may be greener elsewhere.
"Chelsea were just too bright – their movement was too much for us," Redknapp said "Last year we played 4-5-1 and were fantastic away from home. I made a rod for my own back by bringing in two strikers. I don't think you can play 4-4-2 here. You get overloaded in midfield."
It is a curious point but one that is central to Pompey's season. Redknapp said that if he had decided to play 4-5-1, "I'd have had to leave Defoe out and I've bought him here to play." What is evident is that without Sulley Muntari and, to a lesser extent Pedro Mendes, both of whom Redknapp said he did want to sell, the FA Cup winners are not quite the same force. They have two international strikers but a midfield that seems to have no way of getting the ball to them.
The only cloud over Chelsea's day was an injury to Ballack that forced him off in the first half and he may miss Germany's friendly against Belgium on Wednesday. Joe Cole opened the scoring, via a sweet Ballack through-ball, then Anelka added the second with a close-range header after David James had committed himself to an earlier cross. Syl-vain Distin's handball gave Lamp-ard the penalty before half-time.
Just before the end, James should have done better when Deco hit a shot from the kind of distance that should not beat an England goalkeeper, but he might put that down to the new Premier League balls. Four goals up, Stamford Bridge looked like it was enjoying itself and, as Scolari knows, they will want more of the same every week.
Goals: J Cole (12) 1-0; Anelka (26) 2-0; Lampard (pen, 45) 3-0, Deco (88) 4-0.
Chelsea (4-1-3-2): Cech; Bosingwa (Ferreira, 83), Carvalho, Terry, A Cole; Mikel; Ballack (Malouda, 38), Lampard, Deco; J Cole (Wright-Phillips, 78), Anelka. Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Di Santo, Bridge, Alex.
Portsmouth (4-4-2): James; Johnson, Campbell, Distin, Hreidarsson; Diop, Kaboul, Diarra (Mvuemba, 67), Kranjcar (Thomas, 73); Defoe, Crouch. Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Lauren, Utaka, Cranie, Traoré.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral)
Booked: Portsmouth James
Man of the match: Mikel.
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