Chelsea carve victory in Jose's image
No surprises, he had said. The same personnel, the same system, the same set-pieces and even the same warm-up, he underlined. Modesty has never been Jose Mourinho's forte and, some 29 months after his departure, he still likes to emphasise his own role in Chelsea's methods and, by extension, their success. But four days before the reunion with his old club, this was a victory with all the trappings of the Internazionale manager.
Mourinho was a connoisseur of clean sheets in his time in England, producing a team who can emerge triumphant without needing to dominate. His stock in trade was 1-0 and 2-0 wins, delivered with a minimum of fuss, and this had plenty to satisfy a control freak. In seeing off Wolves, Chelsea won without playing overly well but with comparatively few alarms. Very Mourinho.
The pivotal contributions came from two of his disciples and two who rebelled against Luiz Felipe Scolari's very different methods, in Petr Cech and Didier Drogba. The former made two outstanding saves, the latter scored two decisive goals. It is, once again, very Mourinho.
At the risk of deflecting credit from the Special One, it also underlines Carlo Ancelotti's gift for ensuring quiet continuity. But whereas Mourinho's three immediate successors were unable to take the title he won twice, Ancelotti is in an altogether stronger position. Four points clear after Manchester United's defeat at Everton was followed by their own victory at Molineux, it is his to lose.
"Nothing is decided," insisted Ancelotti afterwards. "Our [position in the] table is much better but there are a lot of games to go." In this particular one, as he admitted: "Wolverhampton played very well. We didn't play so well but we had a good spirit and we deserved to win."
Mick McCarthy disagreed. "I'm not happy we've played well and lost to Chelsea," said the Wolves boss. "I was really annoyed." The prime source of irritation was Chelsea's second goal. "We had the game by the scruff of the neck, Cech had just made two really good saves and it was a really bad, bad piece of defending," he explained.
It was harder to fault the Wolves back four for Chelsea's and Drogba's first. The brutal battering ram had been uncharacteristically subdued before he scored a poacher's goal. Simple in its execution, it was superb in its conception. Yuri Zhirkov ensured the absent Ashley Cole was not missed by finding Michael Ballack, collecting the German's return pass and cutting a cross along the six-yard box for Drogba to tap in.
He had rather more to do for his second goal. Cech's kick forwards appeared to catch the Wolves defence unawares but Drogba was too forceful and fast for Christophe Berra, winning the ball and taking it around Marcus Hahnemann before planting it into the net. "Their first goal had a lot of quality about it but the second is just dire," McCarthy added.
Cech had already excelled at his primary task. "They've got a bleeding good goalkeeper," said a disappointed McCarthy. So Cech proved as, twice within nine minutes, he denied Wolves an equaliser. First Adlene Guedioura's volley was repelled, then Kevin Foley's shot. "He did a fantastic save when we were 1-0 up," said Ancelotti. He made two, but the latter was the consequence of an error from Chelsea's quieter, and possibly more contrite, captain. It should have been a regulation clearance for John Terry, but he missed his kick and allowed Foley the opening.
For Mourinho's scouts, it was a sign that Chelsea are not quite identical to the well-drilled winners he left behind; there was a rarity value to Terry's errors under the Portuguese and, along with his mistakes in their defeat at Everton, it was an indication that his private life may be impacting upon his professional life.
There was also a systemic alteration. Ancelotti played with the midfield diamond, the formation with which Mourinho began his reign at Stamford Bridge, but which he used infrequently thereafter. The Portuguese's preferred system, 4-3-3, may still be Chelsea's best. Their future may lie in the past.
The Wolves fans had sung "same old Terry, always cheating". This was the same old Chelsea. Always winning.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Petr Cech - He doesn't rank alongside Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon among the world's greatest goalkeepers any more, but two displays of agility and ability were reminders that, on his day, Cech remains an outstanding goalkeeper.
WOLVES VERDICT: Apart from the lax defending that led to Drogba's second goal, there should be much to encourage McCarthy. The lone striker Doyle proved a real menace to Chelsea while Guedioura appears an astute acquisition. The 4-5-1 formation places a huge onus on Doyle, but it has also made Wolves more resilient.
CHELSEA VERDICT: They were far from their best and indebted to Cech and Drogba. In a functional display, the failure of the designated flair player, Joe Cole, may be the greatest disappointment. Frank Lampard and Ricardo Carvalho should be back to face Inter while Zhirkov, who went off with a tight calf, could be available.
UNHELPFUL ADVICE: John Terry was predictably barracked by the home fans but the Wolves supporters enjoyed themselves at the deposed England captain's expense. One chorus was "you should have shagged Cheryl Cole." The chant was then amended to incorporate first Ashley Cole and then Tiger Woods.