The executioner has arrived. Not for the Chelsea manager, as Andre Villas-Boas might have feared, but for the old certainties, the old stalwarts. Revitalising victory over Wolves offered a fleeting glimpse into Stamford Bridge's future. In it, the Portuguese's head is not on the block. But other heads are. Previous managers would have found the concept of entering a game of this magnitude with their leading scorer on the bench inconceivable, particularly when that title is held by Frank Lampard. On this point, though, Villas-Boas has been very clear: the future will not be stopped.
The Portuguese will stand or fall by his beliefs, but he will never waver. After four defeats in seven games, he would have been forgiven for abandoning his revolution, or at least slowing the pace of change. Instead, he accelerated it. Out went Lampard, in came Oriol Romeu, for his Premier League debut, and the manager was rewarded with a comprehensive win, thanks to goals from John Terry, Daniel Sturridge and Juan Mata, his side's best performance for weeks and the abeyance of Chelsea's mounting crisis.
"We are not going to fill ourselves with arrogance and think this is suddenly a good period," said Villas-Boas. "We have to wait and see. What makes us proud is that we did not deserve the results we have had, and we changed it [not by changing style but] by continuing to be the same team. The side we sent out was based on freshness. It does not mean we do not have confidence in the players who did not play, but we have a top team with amazing talent. Now we have to build on this to be a continuous threat. We have games with Newcastle and Manchester City to show we are a quality side."
Whether Lampard features in those games or not, it is too soon to say he is finished. His introduction, albeit with the game settled, illustrated that he still has a part to play, but it is clear Villas-Boas has no intention of being held hostage to gilded memories.
Villas-Boas wants movement, intensity. Ramires, Raul Meireles and Romeu, signed from Barcelona this summer, offer him that. Flanked by Mata and Sturridge, they tore Mick McCarthy's abject side to shreds in the opening period, Romeu collecting the ball from Terry and David Luiz, orchestrating the destruction. "He was educated at the best school in the world," said his admiring manager. "We do not have to teach him how to play."
Ramires and Meireles played the part of foot-soldiers, swarming forward. The former drew the first save of many from Wayne Hennessey, the Welshman clawing away the Brazilian's shot low to his right. The stay of execution was brief: Mata swung in the resultant corner, Terry rose above Roger Johnson and the ball eluded the goalkeeper's grasp."There was an atmosphere of foreboding when we came here," said McCarthy of his nervous hosts. "We soon sortedthat by giving a goal away."
Mata might have doubled the lead, scooping Branislav Ivanovic's cross over, before he skipped past Ronald Zubar and fizzed a cross along the six yard box. Hennessey hesitated, as did his defence, and Sturridge tapped home. Chelsea increased the tempo; on the touchlines, Villas-Boas swept his players forward. There is, as Gary Neville might observe, something of the 10-year-old playing PlayStation about the Portuguese: he directs every pass, attempts to control every movement, occasionally referring to the big screen at the corner of the Shed End. It is when his players cease to harass and to harry, though, that he presses their buttons most furiously.The result, when it works, is a team of a breathless relentlessness.
Johnson, finding his every avenue of escape cut off just before the interval, could but turn and play the ball back to Hennessey, to McCarthy's disdain. "What am I meant to do?" queried the defender, in exasperation. Concentrate, McCarthy might have replied. A moment later, Johnson lost Didier Drogba down the left. The Ivorian's shot hit Christophe Berra, but Drogba collected, ferried the ball to Ashley Cole, whose low cross found Mata, unmarked, in the centre. The Spaniard's finish was unerring.
Chelsea's progress going forward may be visible, but they remain mired in uncertainty at the back. A better team than Wolves might have taken more advantage of the host of chances they were granted: Berra missed one chance, Stephen Ward three. True, only Hennessey's reactions kept the score respectable – he denied Sturridge and Mata in quick succession in the second half – but Villas-Boas is right that Chelsea are a work in progress. The bloodletting is yet to come.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ivanovic (Bosingwa, 77), David Luiz, Terry, Cole; Ramires, Romeu, Meireles (Lampard, 70); Sturridge, Drogba (Torres, 77), Mata.
Wolves (4-5-1): Hennessey; Zubar (Forde, 75), Johnson, Berra, Elokobi; Jarvis, Henry, Milijas (Ebanks-Blake, 38), Edwards, Ward; Fletcher (Guedioura, 83).
Referee Lee Mason.
Man of the match Sturridge (Chelsea).
Match rating 6/10.
7 mins Punches the air and emits a yelp of delight as Terry heads opener and celebrates in front of the dugout.
8-29 mins Spends much of first half crouched, just outside his technical area, commanding players to pass, to close down and to harry opponents.
29 mins Another spin, another punch of the air as Sturridge taps home from Mata's cross.
35 mins Leaps to feet clapping Sturridge as he closes down Wolves's Johnson.
45 mins Restrained in his celebration asMata scores third.
46-90 mins Stands throughout second half, directing his players, ensuring they do not lose focus.
76 mins Responds to cries from the crowd for Torres to be introduced. A chance for Ward infuriates him.
90 mins Smiling, he congratulates his players. Crisis averted for now.