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Saturday, August 21, 2004
Chelsea win, but win dull

The Insider

BIRMINGHAM: 0 CHELSEA: 1

When you open your managerial career at a new club with victory over Manchester United, the least you can expect is a little praise.

That's the view of Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho's, but instead of revelling in a crucial three point haul that may mean some much come May, he has been forced to fight off a pile of negative press in the last seven days. The tag of boring, boring Chelsea does not sit well with the Portuguese boss whose self-confidence knows no bounds, so this trip to Birmingham was a chance to prove his star studded side can entertain as well as win.

Ask any Chelsea player about Mourinho's primary message since he arrived in London and they will all respond with two words - hard work. Whether Roman Abramovich spent 200m of his Russian cash to produce a side famed for its dour efficiency is doubtful, but that seems to be what he is going to get.

A midfield line-up featuring Geremi, Frank Lampard, Claude Makelele and Alexei Smertin lacks nothing in determination and tackling ability, but it won't set even the most willing of pulses racing. And while they escaped with another fortunate three points here at St Andrews, Chelsea's inability to carve open sides with flowing football was evident once again.

If Mourinho is hoping to base the success he is predicting around his defence, he has a lot of work to do on the training ground. Debutant Ricardo Carvalho looked shaky alongside John Terry at the heart of the defence, while new keeper Petr Cech was not inspiring too much confidence as he flapped at some early crosses.

And he was not alone in making some early mistakes. When Wayne Bridge was hurried into a misplaced back pass by the ever willing Robbie Savage, Chelsea's stuttering start nearly hit its lowest point, but Blues striker Emile Heskey failed to finish when he had just Cech 20 minutes into the match.

Mourinho's men had earlier been handed the chance to open the scoring as another poor back pass, this time from former Chelsea defender Mario Melchiot, but Didier Drogba fired wide when he had just keeper Maik Taylor to beat.

They offered little else in the first half and it was a lack of width that was their most obvious attacking failing. This team were crying out for the livewire Damien Duff to strut his stuff, but it has become clear that the Irishman is not likely to be at Stamford Bridge for too much longer.

Despite proving his fitness with 90 minutes for Ireland on Wednesday night, Duff was excluded from the Chelsea squad and his exit now seems inevitable. If he can't even make the bench when Arjen Robben is out injured, the Dubliner knows his face does not fit and Mourinho is not the type to hang on to a player who doesn't have a winning mentality to match his own.

Chelsea's loss may well be Manchester United gain when it comes to Duff, but his departure would also be a massive blow for his current employers as they so obviously need a player of his craft and cunning type in a wide position.

The truth is Birmingham, paupers compared to the team they were squaring up to today, were superior to Chelsea and they so nearly confirmed as much when Julian Gray crashed a shot against a post in the final minute of the first half.

Mourinho's response was to throw Mateja Kezman and Tiago into the fray, but it did little to halt the waves of attack from Birmingham. It meant that Mourinho turned to Joe Cole's and it didn't take the little England man long to make his mark after leaving the bench. His 68th minute cross took a deflection on it's way towards goal and a cruel twist of fate had befallen the side whose sterling efforts deserved more.

Not that the Chelsea manager was concerned as he apparently sets out on a mission to better Arsenal's Premiership records by recording thirty-eight 1-0 victories on his way to title glory. His press conference proved to be far more exciting than his team. 'What do you want from me,' he asked in typically aggressive fashion. 'I have been here a few weeks and will build a team my way.

'When Mr Abramovich and Mr Kenyon first came to me, they did not talk about exciting football. They spoke of winning major trophies. I know how to build a team and you cannot start with the roof. I will start by building a team spirit and the flowing football will come, don't worry about that.

'I knew what to expect from Birmingham. I told my player that they must match them for commitment if they are to have any chance of winning. They did this, so I am very happy to take these three points. We are top of the league and if you don't like it, I don't care.'

When asked to comment on Robbie Savage's apparent elbow on Kezman late on, Mourinho did not hold back. 'I see this kind of behaviour in Spain and Italy, but one reason I like English football is the fair play,' he said. 'Their number 8 did not show this and I'm sure the video panel will look at his actions. It wasn't good enough.'

As for Blues boss Steve Bruce, he could only scratch his head when he tried to explain a defeat to the media. 'We deserved better,' he moaned. 'The chances were there for us, but when you don't take them against quality players, you are always likely to be punished. Despite that, I have nothing but praise for our performance.'

If they carry on playing in such a negative fashion, Chelsea won't win many friends in the next few months, but Jose Mourinho doesn't look like he is a man who cares. His signature tune is never going to be Let Me Entertain You.

MAN OF THE MATCH - Julian Gray
On a day when Chelsea opted to play without any width, new Birmingham winger Gray was a constant threat. He made Paulo Ferreira look like a 13m misfit.

PRESS BOX CHATTER - Damien Duff will be Manchester United-bound by the end of the next week. It must be true because an Irish hack said as much.

FOOD WATCH - The Insider had indulged in some fast food delicacy prior to kick-off so the snacks on offer in a packed press-room were not required.

THE BORING DEBATE - Chelsea lived up to their billing as the dourest title challengers since George Graham's Arsenal dullards of the early-1990s.

BIRMINGHAM VERDICT - Steve Bruce's side will challenge in the top half of the table this season. And they will do with a bit more panache than Chelsea.

CHELSEA VERDICT - Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz


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