Juan Mata salutes the Roman Abramovich way to play

The winds of change are blowing at Chelsea with pace and mobility the new buzzwords

A year ago next week, Chelsea were about to lose two home games in quick succession to Liverpool, who by the dawn of 2012 were level on points with them. Yet come the end of the season, the gap was 12 points, those defeats – one in the League, one in the Carling Cup – had been forgotten, not least because revenge was achieved in the FA Cup final, and Chelsea were champions of Europe.

They had been the first of the two clubs to change manager but only this season has Roberto Di Matteo begun to bring about the sort of change in style and personnel that Liverpool instigated by replacing Kenny Dalglish with the altogether more modern figure of Brendan Rodgers. The winds of change promise to make Stamford Bridge a gusty place as the teams meet again this afternoon.

The hand of the respective club owners has been discernible in each shift. It was never a secret that Roman Abramovich, thrilled as he was to win the Champions League at last, desired a less functional approach. Di Matteo has never quite explained whether the chicken or the egg came first last summer but creative technical players like Eden Hazard and Oscar arrived, more pedestrian ones like Salomon Kalou and Florent Malouda were sold or sidelined and so a more aesthetically pleasing style evolved, which has not so far been to the detriment of results.

As Juan Mata put it after the dramatic if undeserved victory over an impressive Shakhtar Donetsk in midweek: "We are really enjoying it. We are trying to play good football and, for me, it is the best way to win. We are just trying to take advantage of our qualities offensively and defensively, and it's the best way to win games. Every team has to play with the players they have. Now we have Oscar and Hazard who play really well with the ball. They are able to keep the ball and to assist, and for us it is very good to play like this – this is how I prefer it."

The England manager, Roy Hodgson, was a fascinated spectator at that game and discerned a growing trend that, whether he agrees or not, may make his own job harder until English players adapt to it. "Watching the Chelsea-Shakhtar game it's obvious that the higher the level you play at, the more pace, athleticism and mobility plays a part," he said. "You take all the top teams today in the world and they are going down the route of pace, technique and mobility, as opposed to routes that have been successful in the past, not least for teams like Sweden and England."

Hodgson's consolation is that more and more English players appear to be embracing the new emphasis, as well as an ability to play in more than one position, judging from those making their mark in the younger age groups.

"I was looking at the Under-21 squad that Stuart [Pearce] has picked and there are some very interesting young players in there, people like [Andre] Wisdom, [Josh] McEachran, [Nick] Powell, Tom Ince, Wilfried Zaha – all players who are young but playing regularly in the club teams with the right sort of characteristics for me. The top teams in the country are certainly going down that route of developing players who aren't players who can only play in one position in midfield, but have the ability, athleticism and technique to do either."

Having been at Liverpool, albeit for a shorter time than he wanted, Hodgson is also well aware of some of the young talent there, whether genuinely local or brought in from places like Queens Park Rangers (Raheem Sterling) and Charlton (Jonjo Shelvey). "I've got to say, when I went to Liverpool, I was impressed by the academy and some of the players that we had there. Players that are there today like Andre Wisdom, Raheem Sterling, and Martin Kelly played a lot of games with me in the Europa League in particular. So it's very nice to see them coming through and doing so well, like Sterling two years on, stepping up from being a talented potential first-team player to being a very obvious first-team player."

Although Rodgers may be a proud Ulsterman, he is doing his bit for England by promoting players like those. What is key for him is that they buy into the philosophy and passing style he used at Swansea, but which is taking a little longer to implement successfully, with only two League victories to show for it so far. He goes back today to Stamford Bridge using the 4-3-3 formation employed by Chelsea eight years ago when Jose Mourinho invited him to work with the younger Chelsea generation.

Rodgers was made aware then that the whole Abramovich project was for the long term, which is how he would like it to be at Liverpool. "The mission was to become one of the biggest clubs in the world by 2014," he recalled on Friday. "That was the ambition, so in order to do that they had to win Premier League titles and Champions Leagues. We were coming in to develop a centre of excellence for young players, and running alongside that model was the ambition to be one of the top clubs in the world."

He is fired by the same ambition for Anfield, where that status has increasingly been called into doubt.

Chelsea v Liverpool is live on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pm

Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Life and Style
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own