Jose Mourinho likes to call the current Chelsea team "my players" but the feeling is not necessarily mutual. Mourinho's return to Stamford Bridge tomorrow for the first time since he was sacked in September 2007 is a moment to savour for everyone who was part of the Special One's memorable reign, a recognition of the remarkable impact he had on the club he led to successive Premier League titles in 2005 and 2006.
Yet Mourinho was given a stark reminder at the weekend that he remains very much part of Chelsea's history; that the club and, more importantly, the players have moved on in the two-and-a-half years since his sudden dismissal.
West Ham United provided the perfect warm-up for Chelsea's more demanding fixture with Internazionale. The home side ran through a few moves, No 3 goalkeeper Ross Turnbull got a taste of the action and eventually the goals flew in to provide Chelsea with a shot in the arm following their 4-2 defeat to Manchester City in their last Premier League outing.
After the game, Michael Ballack (right), the German who was signed by Mourinho in the summer of 2006, said the return of the Portuguese manager is not a major talking point in the dressing room. Ballack also stated the influence of Chelsea's current manager, Carlo Ancelotti, should not be underestimated, as he has won the Champions League twice, compared to Mourinho's solitary victory with Porto in 2004.
Ballack said: "It is no secret. We worked with him for a long time, most of the players, but it's gone now and we have to keep going. We have had a few other coaches since then and so of course it is a special moment that we play against him, but also we play against a team of good players and we have to be focused on that.
"He won two league titles – of course that is why he is so popular here in Chelsea. But now it's another time, with a new coach, with new players as well. It is really not a big theme in the dressing room, you know."
A more relevant factor for the Chelsea dressing room is current form. Inter lost 3-1 on Friday to Catania, who are in the lower reaches of Serie A, while Chelsea hit top form with the demolition of West Ham. Florent Malouda was in exceptional form, creating goals for Alex and Didier Drogba and scoring one himself. Joe Cole might wonder what he has to do to convince Ancelotti he is worth his place in the team, but he should take a look at the way Malouda has seized his opportunity.
The Frenchman had been a peripheral presence at the club for two years until this season, but since the arrival of Ancelotti he has blossomed into the archetypal modern winger – quick, direct, and not afraid to put in the hard defensive work. Malouda proved his effectiveness for the team with a convincing display in an unfamiliar role as emergency left-back in the first-leg defeat to Inter in the San Siro.
His cross for Alex's header put Chelsea ahead, only for Scott Parker to equalise with a brilliant shot from distance that caught Turnbull off his line. A Malouda cross onto Drogba's head regained the advantage for Chelsea before Malouda's run and shot and Drogba's close-range finish made the game safe. Cole, in contrast, played 24 minutes as a second-half substitute for Nicolas Anelka, and did little to press his claims for a starting place.
His namesake, Carlton Cole, was also left on the bench as West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola chose Mido ahead of his top scorer to be the lone striker. The Chelsea defence can expect a stiffer test against Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito, and will have to raise their games as they were guilty of the odd wobble against West Ham.
Zola, who was voted Chelsea's best-ever player, is now to be followed by Mourinho, undoubtedly Chelsea's greatest ever manager. Zola said: "He is someone who has done very well for this club and these supporters appreciate that and show their respect. They have been the same for me and others who have done well for this club. He will get a good reception. Whether he will be happy to get the same result as this, I don't know."
Chelsea (4-3-3): Turnbull; Ivanovic (Zhirkov, 80), Alex, Terry, Ferreira; Ballack, Mikel, Lampard; Anelka (J Cole, 66), Drogba, Malouda (Kalou, 87). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Deco, Sturridge, Bruma.
West Ham United (4-5-1): Green; Spector, Gabbidon, Upson, Daprela; Ilan (Diamanti, 83), Kovac, Parker, Behrami, Dyer (Stanislas, 68); Mido (C Cole, 68). Substitutes not used: Stech (gk), McCarthy, Tomkins, Collison.
Booked: West Ham Mido.
Referee: M Clattenburg (Durham).
Man of the match: Malouda.
Attendance: 41,755.Reuse content