Drogba proves pivotal as Mourinho stifles United

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Prior to kick-off, Didier Drogba peeled away from the Chelsea line-up to applaud the fans. Unfortunately he ran straight over to where the Manchester United supporters were housed - and they quickly, colourfully, reminded him of his mistake. He could be forgiven that. After all this was his Stamford Bridge debut.

Prior to kick-off, Didier Drogba peeled away from the Chelsea line-up to applaud the fans. Unfortunately he ran straight over to where the Manchester United supporters were housed - and they quickly, colourfully, reminded him of his mistake. He could be forgiven that. After all this was his Stamford Bridge debut.

But everything else about the 26-year-old's display gave every indication that he was finding his bearings. He looked a Premiership striker, a top one at that with pace, power and a canny positional sense even if he was often isolated as Chelsea were pushed back. The £24m price tag is not justified yet - that will take time - but that's not something that Roman Abramovich will worry about. Drogba - and his manager - appeared unconcerned also. "You have to talk about teams and players and not pounds," said Jose Mourinho afterwards.

Drogba's role in Eidur Gudjohnsen's goal was instructive. Initially marked by Eric Djemba-Djemba, he held his central position as the United player was foolishly drawn to the ball. This freed the space ahead of him so he could place a cushioned header into his strike partner's path. It was all done with an assured precision with Mourinho claiming that it was a training ground move. The link-up play between the two strikers was fluid, with Mourinho insisting that they both played up against the United defenders - which often meant they were left two against two - even if the rest of the Chelsea team kept a compact, all-too-conservative shape. Time and again, Mourinho gesticulated Gudjohnsen forward.

Before the game, Drogba had complained of tiredness - not a sentiment Mourinho would have appreciated - but probably a by-product of their ferocious training regime.

Nevertheless, Drogba is the identikit of a Mourinho striker and although his partnership with Gudjohnsen showed promise, it may well be that he eventually finds his role is to play through the middle on his own, with width either side. That would not faze him. When Drogba was withdrawn with 20 minutes to go, there was a thumbs-up from Mourinho. His tactics had worked.

"It's not easy for him to play like that," Mourinho said afterwards. "We played with two strikers and no wingers." It meant a lot of effort was expended chasing down United's full-backs, stopping them from going forward, and that was accomplished to great effect although Drogba was isolated at times. His movement continued to be intelligent. The style may be the shape of things to come for Chelsea, especially in the big games, even if, on this evidence, it may not be pretty. And Drogba is clearly central to those plans and departed to a standing ovation.

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