Chelsea's 3-1 victory at Stamford Bridge over Manchester United was as comprehensive as the scoreline suggests and endorsed two widely held beliefs. One, that the Blues, with Jose Mourinho at the helm, are serious challengers in the race to wrest the Premier League title away from Old Trafford. Two, that the abyss the Red Devils are staring into is deeper and fierier than beleaguered manager David Moyes would have the world believe.
Mourinho's Chelsea were well organised, defended stoutly when they had to and found the net three times. By contrast, Moyes' United, excepting the opening quarter of an hour when they played with some craft, looked a beaten side from the 17th minute when Samuel Eto'o rifled home the Blues' first goal.
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When Eto'o doubled the Blues' advantage on the stroke of halftime, they were dead and buried. The Cameroon international completed his hat trick in the 49th minute, and although Javier Hernandez pulled a goal back late on, it was only a consolation -- there was nothing to suggest the visitors had more in their locker.
Preparation that verges on the obsessive-compulsive is the cornerstone of Mourinho's blueprint for success. Against Manchester United, every Chelsea player was focused on the matters at hand -- none more so than hat trick hero Eto'o. A surprise choice to lead the line ahead of Fernando Torres, Mourinho explained that he had selected Eto'o because of his "technical ability in small spaces."
As the game unfolded in the second period, the Red Devils' lack of spirit and strategy was evident, particularly in those small spaces, and the extent of the problems Moyes faces as manager were exemplified by the sending off of his captain Nemanja Vidic for a cynical foul on Eden Hazard and Rafael's subsequent challenge on Gary Cahill, which also deserved a red card in my opinion.
How times change. Almost two years ago, Chelsea, managed by Andre Villas-Boas, squandered a three-goal lead at the Bridge to a Manchester United side managed by Sir Alex Ferguson, and Red Devils supporters espying Ferguson watching Sunday's proceedings from the stands may well have spent the halftime break wishing he would make his way down to the United dressing room to mete out the fabled hair-dryer treatment which so often yielded results in days gone by.
Less than a month after this setback, Villas-Boas was dismissed by Chelsea, with his assistant Roberto Di Matteo taking the reins and famously rescuing the Blues' season in the form of winning the Champions League and FA Cup. Moyes' position may not be under threat at the moment, but should United continue to falter serious questions will be asked about his suitability to manage what he described recently as, "not only the biggest club in the country, but the biggest club in the world."
Throughout Sunday's game, United's travelling fans were vocal in their support of Moyes while chiding Mourinho with chants of "you wanted this job," the latter being a scenario that the Chelsea manager has been swift to dismiss following claims made in a book written by journalist Diego Torres that he broke down and cried on hearing the news that Ferguson had "chosen" his fellow Scot to succeed him in the Old Trafford hot seat -- which must be getting uncomfortably warm at the moment.
"I am where I want to be. I want to go nowhere else," retorted Mourinho when pressed on the matter, and given the current state of play at Stamford Bridge the Blues boss doesn't have a case to answer.
In his second term in office, the Portuguese is looking every inch Mr. Chelsea. Sage comments and a fatherly influence in the dressing room are Mourinho's stock-in-trade these days. The maturity and gravitas that comes with middle age are very much in evidence, and Blues supporters have swiftly become accustomed to this new version of their Special One and the bond they feel with the man they trust implicitly to deliver the goods strengthens with each week that passes.
Philosophical words tumble from Mourinho's lips at every news conference. "My team is a humble team, a team that can identify the moment," he said when asked to put his finger on why Chelsea were playing so well. "When you are better than the opponent you have to go and try to kill the game. When the opponent is better, you have to be humble and control the game."
Football isn't rocket science, and footballers (with the possible exclusion of Iain Dowie and Shaka Hislop from any list) are not rocket scientists. In an era when many managers speak of projects, Mourinho keeps it simple -- clearly leaving his players in no doubt about what he is trying to achieve and how they can help achieve it and the results continue to speak for themselves.
At Stamford Bridge love is definitely better second time around.