Three thousand Chelsea supporters had their first look at Andre Villas-Boas yesterday but gleaned few clues as to what he regards as his first-choice team. Chelsea began with perhaps five of them, then changed the whole side at half-time and eventually used 23 players.
Their former defender Tal Ben Haim headed an early own goal from a cross by Fernando Torres, who once again bore no obvious resemblance to a £50 million footballer. In the second half Henrique Hilario saved a penalty from Luke Varney as Portsmouth, 16th in the Championship last season and under new ownership again, demonstrated commendable spirit and caused problems for the visiting defence without managing the equaliser they deserved.
In circumstances in which it was difficult to assess individual performances, the 45-minute stints by John Terry and Josh McEachran stood out. But Torres, that one cross aside, was anonymous and after one goal in 18 games last season, he must find some form on the Asian tour starting this week or risk losing both his confidence and his place. The one consolation for him yesterday was that Didier Drogba, his replacement in the second half, did not much better. Torres or Drogba? Villas-Boas's first crucial decision could be one that Carlo Ancelotti opted out of making until it was too late.
"It's too early to pretend it's a big, big drama," the new man said. "For a striker, confidence is decisive. As soon as Fernando finds the net, he'll grow in confidence." But how long can he afford to wait? For the rest, Villas-Boas felt there were "some positive signs and some negative".
As usual in the wake of a supposedly failed campaign, resulting in the manager's sacking, there have been predictions of a mass clear-out of personnel, yet all the usual faces were on show here and no new ones have arrived. If Tottenham's chairman Daniel Levy keeps his nerve and his promise in the face of ever increasing bids (now approaching £30m), then Luka Modric will not be one of them; indeed the most urgent need following Michael Essien's serious knee injury would appear to be for a defensive midfielder either to challenge or occasionally play alongside John Obi Mikel. West Ham's Scott Parker, who may be secured on a season's loan, fits that bill better than Modric. "We might have to move in the market and we have a couple of targets identified," Villas-Boas said. "There's plenty of time."
The impression he has already made has confirmed all we had been led to expect: this is an intelligent and confident young man who has made the most of every opportunity presented in his short career, whether saving the lowly Portugese club Academica from relegation or winning a treble, including the Europa Cup, amid an unbeaten league campaign with his hometown team Porto.
Getting the better of the two Manchester clubs this season will be more difficult than overhauling Lisbon's giants, Benfica and Sporting, but for a 33-year-old (the same age as Frank Lampard and Drogba), his credentials are remarkable. Of course, the CV does not compare yet to that of his mentor Jose Mourinho, with whom comparisons are inevitable, however much he protests that they are different in beliefs and personality.
After failing to lure Turkey's coach Guus Hiddink back to Stamford Bridge in any capacity, Chelsea have settled for a conventional structure of manager plus two assistants in their former midfielder Roberto Di Matteo and Steve Holland, who has worked with the academy and reserves and therefore brings a welcome element of continuity.
Di Matteo has doubtless taken much ribbing already in the dressing-room about his West Bromwich Albion team's 6-0 defeat in the opening game of last season by Chelsea, who followed it up with an identical scoreline at Wigan. The Italian would be entitled to remind the players about the rest of their season; after leading the table until the end of November they never did so again, and finished fully nine points behind Manchester United, who also beat them twice in the Champions' League quarter-final.
Villas-Boas will be under no illusions, for he knows the bottom line: "I must be successful". That is the iron law of management, applying equallyto Steve Cotterill at Portsmouth, a club who change owners even more often than Chelsea replace managers. A pair of London-based Russians under the banner of CSI are the latest incumbents – the fifth in two years.
Portsmouth (4-4-1-1): Henderson (Ashdown, h-t); Ben Haim, Halford (Pearce, 52), Rocha (Williams, 60), Hreidarsson (Magri, 67); Ward, Mokoena, Mullins, Varney; Norris; Kitson (Stockford, 76).
Chelsea (4-3-3): First half: Turnbull; Ferreira, Kalas, Ivanovic, Cole; Clifford, Mikel, Zhirkov; Sturridge, Torres, Malouda. Second half Hilario; Bosingwa, Chlobah, Terry, Van Aanholt (Bertrand, 67); Benayoun, Lampard, McEachran; Anelka, Drogba, Kalou.