Chelsea's momentum gathers pace

As Mourinho's side end their US tour in Philadelphia, Steve Tongue assesses the first shots fired in this latest revolution
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The Independent Online

The late goal drilled in by Milan's Andriy Shevchenko may have brought about Chelsea's first defeat under Jose Mourinho, but it failed to diminish either the success of their United States tour or the manager's confidence in himself and his new team. If he had one concern, it was the quality of defending that turned a deserved 2-1 lead held with 15 minutes left into a 3-2 loss.

The late goal drilled in by Milan's Andriy Shevchenko may have brought about Chelsea's first defeat under Jose Mourinho, but it failed to diminish either the success of their United States tour or the manager's confidence in himself and his new team. If he had one concern, it was the quality of defending that turned a deserved 2-1 lead held with 15 minutes left into a 3-2 loss.

Overall, however, the trip has been so beneficial that a club official confirmed Chelsea will almost certainly take up their option to return next summer, when the format of the Champions World Series is likely to be changed into a round-robin tournament. A competitive edge has been missing from some of the games - notably Manchester United's - but after beating Celtic (4-2) and Roma (3-0) in entertaining fashion, Chelsea found the Italian champions up for it and a lively evening featuring as many yellow cards as goals ensued.

Eidur Gudjohnsen flicked them ahead from one of the game's 31 free-kicks before the Brazilian veteran Cafu equalised with a stunning volley from wide of the penalty area. Didier Drogba's emphatic scoring header before half-time was reassuring for anyone concerned about the size of his £24m fee, but Milan finished strongly despite having only just begun their pre-season preparations. With Paolo Maldini off the field after a bad tackle by Celestine Babayaro, Alessandro Costacurta met Kaka's corner to equalise, and in the 88th minute Shevchenko beat the vulnerable Carlo Cudicini with a superbly struck low free-kick from 25 yards.

Conceding two more goals from set pieces, to add to a bad one against Celtic, annoyed Mourinho, who is not one to keep displeasure to himself. Other than that, he had only positive reflections on the performance and the tour as a whole: "We can't concede goals like this from corners. But I'm really happy with the game and the tour, the way the players have worked and trained and the evolution I can see in the team. I'm a new manager, I have a lot of new players and we have a different style of play. So we need more time to become a real good team."

That team is beginning to take shape. Petr Cech, the 6ft 4in goalkeeper, will put Cudicini under severe pressure for a place, and Ricardo Carvalho from Porto for Marcel Desailly is a progressive swap. Paulo Ferreira, the other Porto recruit, can expect to start ahead of the less experienced Glen Johnson, and greater familiarity over the weeks ahead should help the defence tighten up, especially at those set plays.

As nine goals in three games here have suggested, scoring should not be a problem. Adrian Mutu, disappointing last season, is the one striker to have missed out and Mourinho may see the powerfully built Drogba as his best target man, with either Gudjohnsen or Mateja Kezman in support. Kezman, from PSV Eindhoven, confirmed his reputation as an excellent finisher but one with a wild streak. He was suspended from the Milan match after being sent off against Roma (because Fifa regards this an official tournament) and will miss the start of the domestic season if the Football Association imposes a further ban for violent conduct.

One issue that has not been resolved is whether Joe Cole will be anything more than a bit-part player, even for a manager who traditionally favours having a man in Cole's favourite position just behind two strikers. Mourinho's words on the subject yesterday were carefully chosen: "I think he has to find himself, or we have to find it together. In teams like Chelsea, players cannot just wait for many, many, many opportunities. When you have it, just take it, because if you don't, other good players are in the queue. Joe is a great player with a lot of talent but he has to work every day, every minute. He is not a striker, not a traditional midfield player, he is like a link, so that's the best position for him."

It seems then, that the young maverick will no longer be wasted out on the left (Scott Parker's probable fate until Arjen Robben or Damien Duff are fully fit) but nor has he convinced the manager to construct the midfield around him. Claude Makelele remains the best holding player, but Frank Lampard has to play, and Robben made a real impact out wide against Celtic. Expect Cole, yet again, to spend more time in the dug-out than on the pitch, which in turn will be of no help to his diminishing England prospects. Once Tiago Mendes is available, midfield is the one area in which Chelsea have more than two players for each position. To intensify the competition, Alexei Smertin and Geremi both did well on tour, the former in the middle and the latter starting every game wide on the right.

Chelsea will now use the Gianfranco Zola tribute match against Real Zaragoza at Stamford Bridge on Sunday as final preparation for their opening Premiership game against the much busier - too busy? - Manchester United. Mourinho will have them ready and the season promises to be a fascinating test at a level of weekly intensity he has not experienced in Portugal or even Spain, despite his undoubted abilities.

Undoubted, that is, by Jose Mourinho: "The Premiership is top level every weekend, so what can you do but fight every day to be better? A foreign coach has to show he deserves to be there and I'm ready to cope with it. I hope people respect my past, because my past is more beautiful than many, many, many people working in the Premiership for many years. I hope to deserve to be in your wonderful football country."

Chelsea (4-4-2): Cudicini; Ferreira (Johnson 82), Gallas (Carvalho h-t), Terry, Bridge (Babayaro (h-t); Geremi, Makelele (Huth 86), Lampard, Parker (Duff h-t); Gudjohnsen (Cole 49), Drogba.

Milan (4-4-2): Abbiati; Cafu, Nesta, Maldini (Costacurta 62), Kaladze; Dhorasoo (Brocchi 62), Gattuso, Kaka, Serginho; Shevchenko, Crespo.

Referee: T Vaughn.

Mourinho's men the winners and losers

Good trip

Wayne Bridge

No chance to impress at Euro 2004 but has done so on tour. Ought now to be ahead of the Nigerian Celestine Babayaro in the defensive pecking order.

Eidur Gudjohnsen

Under threat from expensive new strikers Mateja Kezman, signed from PSV Eindhoven, and Didier Drogba, who arrives from Marseille, but his Premiership experience makes him worth a place. Two sharply taken goals emphasised the point.

Alexei Smertin

The Russian captain spent the whole of last season on loan at Portsmouth, where he introduced himself with a stunning goal and a man-of-the-match performance in his first game. Can expect regular appearances from the substitutes' bench if not a start.

Bad trip

Joe Cole

Still the enigma. Has enjoyed some good moments, notably his goal against Roma in the Champions' League, but has not managed to tie down the position which he craves, positioned just behind the two strikers.

Robert Huth

Inexperience showed, prompting the new manager to go for a proven performer in Ricardo Carvalho as his new signing. Now very much a fourth-choice central defender.

Tiago Mendes

Summoned to the Olympics without having played for Chelsea, the midfielder suffered a recurrence of an old pelvic problem. Cannot play now until Portugal are knocked out of the Olympics.

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