Deco steps out of the shadows

Dazzling display from Chelsea playmaker hints at an improved season ahead
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The Independent Football

The Chelsea midfielder Deco is relishing his renaissance under the club's new coach Carlo Ancelotti and his diamond formation.

The Portugal international failed to shine in his first season in English football after joining from Barcelona for £7.9m last summer. He also failed to settle in south-west London and looked destined for a summer move to Internazionale. But the Italian club could not meet Chelsea's asking price and Deco has been brought back into the fold under Ancelotti.

He was handed the pivotal role behind the two strikers in Tuesday night's impressive 3-1 victory over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light and Deco's class was evident long before he scored the third goal.

Now Chelsea's forgotten man is ready to seize the chance to polish his reputation in Ancelotti's system. "The system is good because we have more possession and have the ball all the time," said Deco. "We have four in midfield and we can play better than when we had the three. When we defend it's more difficult because we have to go both sides, but to play in it is fantastic. I know, if I am fit and well, I can play. I just want to help the team and I think the coach trusts and believes in me."

It is an important season for Deco, with next year's World Cup in South Africa uppermost in his thoughts. Ancelotti insists the Portuguese playmaker is motivated sufficiently to ensure he plays himself into the squad for the finals. The Italian coach also made it clear that Deco is staying at Stamford Bridge.

"Deco does not want to go, and we do not want him to," said Ancelotti. "He is working very well now, he is very motivated to play and this is a very important season for him before the World Cup, and he played very well, both for him and for the team."

Meanwhile, Chelsea are not banking on the return of any of their injured squad members before Sunday's west London derby with Fulham at Craven Cottage. The Brazilian defender Alex (groin), the new signing Yuri Zhirkov (knee) and the full-back Juliano Belletti (Achilles) have all missed the start of the new season, along with Paulo Ferreira and Joe Cole (both knee). But Ancelotti hopes they will return to action in time to be considered for the club's next home game against Burnley on 29 August.

The teenage Sunderland midfielder Jordan Henderson, meanwhile, was inspired by his tussle with Chelsea. The 19-year-old was handed a baptism of fire by his manager, Steve Bruce, when he was pitched into direct competition with England full-back Ashley Cole in his first league start for his hometown club.

And while Sunderland were given a stern lesson about the power and quality of the league's high-fliers, Henderson is hungry for more and is desperate to hang on to his place for Saturday's visit of Blackburn Rovers to Wearside. He said: "They were brilliant and the manager said to us that we won't come up against a side as good as Chelsea every week. We have Blackburn at home on Saturday and that's what we have to focus on.

"I felt a lot more confident going into last night than when I went on as a sub at Chelsea last season, so I need to take that forward. I'm knackered now but excited about the weekend and hopefully I can keep my place.

"I was told a couple of hours before kick-off that I would be playing. It was a great feeling. I was on cloud nine but was also trying to stay focused. I was confident about it. I knew I would have to work hard and I gave it everything I've got."

Henderson emerged from the ranks during pre-season having made two senior appearances last season – as a substitute in a 5-0 league defeat at Chelsea and a start in a League Cup defeat by Blackburn. However, he got 13 appearances under his belt on loan at Coventry City and has clearly impressed the new manager Bruce since his arrival at the club.

Asked about Henderson's performance last night, the manager said: "I thought he did well. He will learn from the experience of playing against Ashley Cole. The kid ran a million miles and covered every blade of grass, which he had to."

Henderson is not the only one who will learn from a brush with Chelsea, which kept Sunderland's feet on the ground as much as it illustrated the validity of the visitors' claims on the league title.

In the opening 45 minutes, the confidence gained from Saturday's 1-0 win at Bolton Wanderers was in evidence as the Black Cats, with Darren Bent, Lee Cattermole and Lorik Cana – who suffered a suspected broken hand – making home debuts, frustrated Ancelotti's men. Indeed, they took the lead when Bent pounced on a loose ball inside the penalty area with 18 minutes gone to score his second goal in as many games for his new club. However, from that point on it was largely one-way traffic.