Mourinho bemoans international effect

Chelsea 2 Sunderland 0
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The Independent Football

With five straight wins and no goals conceded, Chelsea remain top of the table after suppressing Sunderland's stubborn resistance late in the game, but they were never entirely convincing. According to Mourinho, however, Chelsea could not have been expected to play well.

"We have been on holiday for 15 days and I see my players for the first time on Friday," the coach lamented. "For this reason I am happy with the result.

"If you look all over Europe you will see players injured - Thierry Henry, Zinedine Zidane and, for us, Claude Makelele. My players have been working with different ideologies, different coaches, different methods, for the past weeks and now they are expected to perform well in the Premiership after one day back in the country. How can you expect them to perform? It's not just muscle tiredness. There is the mental side too. Some players come back happy because they have played well and won, other return unhappy."

When Sunderland's manager, Mick McCarthy, heard this he permitted himself a wry smile. How he would love to be in a position of having so many internationals and a list of reserves valued at approximately £70m. Mourinho can argue all he likes about being hard done by but on top of everything else Chelsea were served a fixture against the bottom club ahead of a home Champions' League game against Anderlecht tomorrow.

"I think, somehow, they will manage with the players they have got," McCarthy said, smiling.

Chelsea continue to win their matches, even though they are not pleasing on the eye and made heavy weather of defeating a team who had lost their four opening games, their last 19 in the Premiership if you include the 15 in a row when they were relegated.

As England's loss to Northern Ireland in Belfast proved, anything can happen in football and there was a whiff of it in the sultry air throughout the first half as Chelsea struggled to break down a rugged defence, well marshalled by Gary Breen. Chelsea could not even complain that the loss of Makelele had undermined their rhythm because Michael Essien played so well.

"He can do everything, mark, press, pass; he is going to be a very important player for us," said Mourinho.

Sitting in front of Sunderland's defence, the tall, muscular Christian Bassila was almost Essien's equal, making life difficult for Frank Lampard, who has yet to find the consistency and overall zest for the game of last season.

In a barren first half Chelsea enjoyed long periods of possession but lacked penetration, a fault Mourinho attempted to solve by replacing Eidur Gudjohnsen with Damien Duff, giving Arjen Robben the opportunity to join attacks through the middle. Robben is finding life a little more difficult mainly because defenders are not flying in.

When Alan Stubbs had to go off at half time suffering from double vision, Mourinho realised that Sunderland would be more vulnerable in the air and sent on Didier Drogba - who yesterday threatened to stop playing for Ivory Coast following the hostile reaction from fans to the team's home defeat by Cameroon in a World Cup qualifier last Sunday - in place of Hernan Crespo as the solitary spearhead.

But it was Lampard, perhaps unleashing the frustrations of Belfast, who went closest to scoring with a fierce shot from 20 yards against the crossbar.

The deadlock was broken in the 54th minute, courtesy of a Sunderland blunder. There was no danger when Kelvin Davis threw the ball towards Andy Welsh, on for Stubbs. The left winger's first touch was clumsy and the ball ran into the path of Geremi, who struck an instant low shot from 20 yards under the startled Davis.

"Andy Welsh cost £15,000 from Stockport and he has been brilliant for us," McCarthy said. "He came in and apologised but I've told him not to beat himself too much."

A lingering complaint against Chelsea is that their football is too conservative, that Mourinho's hand is the dead hand of caution. Their second, sealing goal in the 82nd minute was, however, a classic. Essien made a thrusting run from midfield and released Duff wide on the left. The Irishman reached the byline and sent over a deep cross which enabled Drogba to pull away, outjump Julio Arca and plant a firm downward header into the left corner of Davis's net.

The game finished in a violent electric storm. It sounded like a warning to the Premiership.

Goals: Geremi (54) 1-0; Drogba (82) 2-0.

Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech; Geremi, Gallas, Terry, Del Horno; Essien; Wright-Phillips (J Cole, 57), Gudjohnsen (Duff, 45), Lampard, Robben; Crespo (Drogba, 54). Substitutes not used: Cudicini, Carvalho.

Sunderland (4-5-1): Davis; Nosworthy, Breen, Stubbs, (Welsh, 52), Hoyte; Elliott Whitehead, Miller (Le Tallec, 80), Bassila, Arca; Stead (Gray, 45). Substitutes not used: Davies, Kuszczak.

Referee: M Dean (Cheshire).

Booked: Chelsea Cole.

Man of the match: Essien.

Attendance: 41,969.

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