Mourinho still seeking centre-half

Celtic2 - Chelsea 4
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The Independent Football

He will change Chelsea, almost certainly for the better and quite possibly into Premiership champions, but can Jose Mourinho change the nature of British football? That may prove beyond even this most innovative student of the game.

Long before taking over as manager at Stamford Bridge last month, he had identified a lack of patience and inability to keep the ball as a weakness of the English approach. A rare heatwave here on the normally more temperate north-west coast, offered an early opportunity to put his ideals into practice on Saturday, but it proved to be too soon for Chelsea's players to take advantage. Rather, their deserved victory over Celtic in the opening game of the 11-match Champions World series was achieved by quick breaks, sharp shooting and hard running - even in temperatures recorded in the hottest spot at pitch level as a debilitating 120F.

Perhaps knowing that only four of their number would have to survive more than 45 minutes - inevitably, the game kicked off at the hottest time of day to suit European television - encouraged most of those in Chelsea blue to impress the manager with whole-hearted endeavour. He appreciated that commitment and admits that it will take time for the squad to absorb his "methodology". As a result of Euro 2004, and the continuing influx of new players like Didier Drogba and Tiago Mendes (neither of whom took part on Saturday), there have been barely four days of full training together.

"I'm very happy with the players," Mourinho said after the game. "Some had to play with only two or three days preparation but the team did a few things we've worked at. Celtic are one or two weeks in front of us and gave us a difficult match." He will be a hard taskmaster, however, as his response to the two goals conceded to the Scottish champions' young striker, Craig Beattie - the second of them headed in from a corner - made clear: "The first goal came from a ball-loss. And I don't accept goals from set-plays. We had four players to mark an opponent man to man and that is responsibility. Somebody was guilty."

The culprit appeared to be Robert Huth, who may thereby have forfeited some of his brownie points for playing the full 90 minutes. William Gallas had been taken sick on Saturday morning, forcing the excellent Alexei Smertin to play the whole game, and confirming Mourinho in his determination to buy another centre-half before meeting Manchester United in the opening Premiership game in three weeks time.

Celtic, whose league season begins a week earlier, must have experienced a similar sensation. Dominant domestically after winning the title by 17 points, and capable of overcoming a Blackburn, a Fulham or even a Liverpool, they tend to be found wanting against a higher level of opponent. Worse, there is no longer a Henrik Larsson to bully weaker teams or worry stronger ones.

"You can't defend like that against quality teams like Chelsea," said their coach, Steve Walford, standing in for the absent Martin O'Neill, whose deployment of a three-man defence at the start of the second half did not help matters. It did help Mateja Kezman, however, who took his two goals with the confidence of a natural scorer, and by the time Celtic moved Chris Sutton into defence against his former club, the horse had long ago bolted through the open back door.

There will be no clever continental stuff from Celtic in their second game of an arduous tour against Liverpool on the east coast tonight. "British teams can only play one way," Walford said. Mourinho would beg to differ and his attempts to prove it when the heat is on - either literally or metaphorically - will be one of many fascinating aspects of his reign.

Goals: Smertin (16) 0-1; Beattie (27) 1-1; Gudjohnsen (50) 1-2; Kezman (59) 1-3; Beattie (68) 2-3; Kezman (86) 2-4.

Celtic (4-4-2): Hedman; Agathe (McNamara, h-t), Balde, Valgaeren (Laursen, h-t), McManus (Pearson, h-t); Sylla (Hartson, h-t), Lennon (McGeady, 65), Petrov (Fernandez, 65), Wallace (Petta, 65); Beattie, Sutton.

Chelsea (4-4-2): Cudicini (Cech, h-t); Johnson, Terry (Makelele, h-t), Huth, Bridge (Babayaro, h-t); Geremi, Smertin, Parker (Robben, h-t), Cole (Lampard, h-t); Mutu (Kezman, h-t), Gudjohnsen (Ferreira, 70).

Referee: K Terry (USA).

Man of the match: Smertin.

Attendance: 30,504.

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