Mourinho’s second coming begins in victory
Chelsea get off to a flying start against Hull City despite a post interval dip in tempo
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho encourages his team during the Barclays Premier League match at Stamford Bridge. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images.
Chelsea 2 Hull City 0: The stadium announcer cleared his throat and held up his microphone. “I’m looking forward to introducing this manager more than the last one,” he told the crowd. Stamford Bridge bellowed its approval and the new era was underway.
In the more amorous moments, it was possible to find grown men in José Mourinho masks throwing rose petals from from the stands. Well, not quite.
Yet this was an extraordinary love-in and it has been a long time since Stamford Bridge has felt such a contented place. Mourinho milked the moment with some extravagant blowing of kisses – both hands, naturally – and his team played with enough panache inside the first half to make sure there was never any danger the homecoming would not go to plan.
On the contrary, it was probably a surprise they did not mark the occasion with a proper thrashing given the way they pummelled their opponents in that opening period. Chelsea’s pace dropped after the interval. They had started to look a little jaded before the end and, for ten minutes or so, Hull were even emboldened enough to start threatening Petr Cech’s goal.
Yet the damage was done and, inside that first half, Chelsea had played some wonderful, slick football. Both goals arrived inside the first 25 minutes and the photographers with their lenses permanently trained on Mourinho would have had another of those fist-pumping celebrations if Lampard had not whacked a penalty too close to Allan McGregor.
Lampard simply shook his head clear and when there was a chance to make amends, with a free-kick closer to the centre circle than the penalty area, his shot, dipping, swerving and soaring into the top corner, demanded immediate inclusion into his portfolio of great goals.
For Hull, that was probably the first reminder of how brutal this league can be. There will be more if they do not learn to defend with greater cohesion but, if there is one consolation, it is that they will not be confronted by teams with this speed of thought and movement in attack.
Shortly before half-time, Mourinho became engaged in conversation with Steve Bruce in the lip of the tunnel and the Hull manager could be seen clasping his hands together as if he were praying for some kind of forgiveness.
Oscar, in particular, shimmered with menace, playing just behind Fernando Torres but often dropping deep, such an elusive opponent. Kevin de Bruyne slipped seamlessly into the side, Eden Hazard was a constant threat and, though Torres faded after the break, the striker did well enough before then to invoke the sense that the Mourinho effect could have therapeutic effects on his Chelsea career.
Lampard, meanwhile, played with so much control and authority to remind us how preposterous it was there was a time last season when Chelsea were seriously considering not keeping him on. What a wretched mistake that would have been.
Hull were obliging opponents from the moment McGregor charged off his goal-line and clattered into Torres for the early penalty. Yet McGregor, to give him his due, did more than anyone to ensure the pummelling did not lead to more goals.
His penalty save was impressive enough but the reflexes to claw out Branislav Ivanovic’s point-blank header just before half-time might have even topped it. In between, there were other saves to keep out Lampard twice, De Bruyne put two efforts into the crowd and all this from a side with Juan Mata, their outstanding player of the last two seasons, on the bench because he is lagging a little in terms of match fitness. No wonder Bruce was praying.
The breakthrough came after 13 minutes and epitomised the fluency of Chelsea’s attacking play in that early period. Hazard instigated the move, cutting in from the left and playing the ball into De Bruyne’s feet.
The debutant slipped a beautifully weighted pass into Oscar’s path and the Brazilian was suddenly running through on goal, stretching out his right boot and poking a shot beyond the oncoming McGregor.
Lampard’s free-kick followed a foul from James Chester on Torres – an exaggerated tumble from Torres but a free-kick, nonetheless – and at that stage it was difficult to imagine Hull would get to the finish without conceding more. As a contest, the game already felt over.
The promoted side do, however, deserve some credit for the way they settled into the second half and it needed a fine save from Cech to keep out Curtis Davies’s header before all those home-made “Special One” posters came out again at the final whistle. (Guardian service)