Chelsea Manager Shrugs Off Heckles

André Villas-Boas is still striving to make a real difference.

Chelsea manager shrugs off heckles and looks to rectify familiar faults Any elation at a first competitive victory as Chelsea's manager was tempered by the reality that his team had departed to catcalls from the stands at the interval, the shortcomings of last year having reappeared to prompt anxiety all round. This club should be encouraged by evidence that the new man can tweak and cajole effectively, but the disquiet may remain until the side's reinvention is complete.

There were positives to cling to in the aftermath, from the switch to two up-front to the momentum whipped up once parity had been restored in the second period. Yet the early plod, which cost them Shane Long's smartly taken opener, and the lack of invention, pace and urgency through most of the first half, were all too familiar. Chelsea were eventually punished for those faults last term and this time round, the other title contenders are reinforced. This team are already heaving to keep pace with them.

Chelsea will take timely strides this week. Juan Mata, Valencia's much coveted winger, should complete his transfer in the next 24 hours in a deal that will cost an initial £23.5m. The Spaniard will bring pace and guile, his willingness to hug the touchline likely to stretch opponents and drag full-backs and centre-halves from entrenched positions. Florent Malouda scored the winner on Saturday but he is as happy veering infield as dumbfounding markers on the outside. Chelsea will welcome a flashback to trickery on the flank that marked the period under José Mourinho when Damien Duff and Arjen Robben were at their most threatening.

The club will also unveil Romelu Lukaku and Oriel Romeu on Tuesday, with the latter likely to be integrated swiftly into the side as a passer rather than destroyer at the base of midfield, with the potential of at least one more eye-catching arrival to follow. Villas-Boas's willingness to respond to questions of interest in Mata and Luka Modric in recent days has felt telling; as much a gentle nudge to the board that strengthening is required as a reminder to supporters that efforts are being made in the market. Assimilate Mata and a Modric-type creator into this line-up and Chelsea become a team far less reliant upon brawn, and one who would pose a very different threat to unsettle opponents.

The games, at present, almost feel like a distraction from the painstaking work taking place around the negotiating table, the boos at the interval reflective of impatience as much as expectation. Villas-Boas has not lost a league game since Benfica defeated his Académica side 3-2 in April 2010, but he still endured heckles early in what ended up as a staggering sole season with Porto last term.

"I was whistled and the season ended with four trophies and no more boos," he said. "It's just a natural reaction from a demanding public. Nothing new. It was the anxiety and demands of the public regarding what happened last year, and the demands for what they want this year.

"But they did see an immediate performance. Maybe not in the first half, because we suffered that goal so early on, but we had a fantastic second half. You have to separate the first from the second half. It's not fair to judge the performance based only on the first half. We are still looking for that 90-minute performance, but these first games in the Premier League are very difficult for the top teams."

West Bromwich Albion have tested two of that elite group already and twice been beaten by late goals. They will be nervy themselves until displays such as this yield points, but theirs appears a far stronger team this term than last.

Long looks a bargain, even if the fee rises as high as £6.5m in time, Peter Odemwingie has been secured on new terms and the likes of Chris Brunt and James Morrison provide a slick supply line. There was a ruggedness, too, to a back-line strengthened by the arrival of Ben Foster, which suggests they will quickly hoist themselves away from the foot of the table. Patience is required at The Hawthorns as well as Stamford Bridge.

Powered by article was written by Dominic Fifield at Stamford Bridge, for The Guardian on Sunday 21st August 2011 22.59 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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