Chelsea 2 Hull City 0: Jose Mourinho tried hard to keep it low-key when he finally emerged from the tunnel to take his seat yesterday. The problem is that when more than 40,000 people are singing your name, some of whom are wearing masks bearing your likeness, the situation requires more than just a cursory wave.
He stood up and sat down three times, eventually blowing kisses to the Chelsea supporters and then, as the game started, he began writing notes on a pad. The love-in was clearly a source of anxiety for him on his return to Stamford Bridge as manager after almost six years away but he needed not worry. His unbeaten home record in the league was never going to be challenged yesterday.
This was a typical Mourinho victory. The high-octane, aggressive approach in the first half that yielded a penalty, missed by Frank Lampard, and then after that two goals in the first 25 minutes was just about enough to break any hopes Hull City might have nurtured of some kind of return on their day. In the second half Chelsea choked the life out the game.
In his first spell at the club, it was in this fashion that so many games were won. Often it would be a goal in either half, before a holding midfielder – often Jiri Jarosik or Tiago – was sent on to lock the door once and for all. This time there was no sensible midfielder sent on, unless you include the six minutes that Marco Van Ginkel got at the end, but Chelsea shut the game down nonetheless.
What will be remembered was the pace and intensity with which Chelsea started the game. Reprising his excellent pre-season form, Kevin De Bruyne was selected as the No 10 between Eden Hazard and Oscar and the 22-year-old De Bruyne, making his competitive debut for Chelsea, was impressive. It was De Bruyne’s pass into Oscar on six minutes after Hazard had carried the ball from the left wing and the Brazilian scored beautifully.
Even before then, Lampard had a penalty saved by Allan McGregor after the Hull goalkeeper came out and, in trying to get the ball away from Fernando Torres, managed to punch the Chelsea man in the face. It was a strange day for McGregor. He reacted well to save the penalty but then later failed to save Lampard’s free-kick on 25 minutes which was close enough to be stopped.
There was a debate over the award of the free-kick in the first place, one which looked like it had been won by a dive by Torres when he was challenged by James Chester. From that free-kick, Lampard struck a dipping shot that had plenty of pace which McGregor flapped at and missed and the game was completely out of sight.
In those early stages, Chelsea succeeded in breaking Hull’s resistance. The attacking was relentless and there was an obvious effort to send every pass forward. Oscar looks to have come back from that long Confederations Cup summer sharp. Hazard started well. They are all clearly galvanised by the competition for places and a manager who is not prepared to accept anything but the best.
Of course, there will always be the Torres conundrum. He ran onto Ramires’ pass to win the penalty and, in the moments he got the ball, he did look like he was much less lethargic than his worst moments in a Chelsea shirt. Even so, when the three men behind him are moving the ball around as quickly as they did yesterday the expectation will be that Torres scores regularly. He struggled for a clear-cut chance yesterday although Mourinho seemed to appreciate his effort.
The Chelsea manager said that his team had simply run out of steam after their first half performance, especially his three creative players behind Torres. “We can't play that way for 90 minutes,” he said. “We had no physical energy [after half-time] to play that way.” But by then the damage was done
As for Hull, they rallied in the second half when Chelsea turned down the dial. McGregor saved well in injury-time at the end of the first half from a Branislav Ivanovic header which was so close to crossing the line that the new “goal decision system” goal-line technology was activated. The computer said ‘No’ to Ivanovic and Chelsea went in just the two goals up.
The introduction of the new signings Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore, the latter of whom is on loan, made a difference after the hour. They gave Hull a bit more stability and direction in midfield. But that had to be balanced by the options that Mourinho had at his disposal, including Andre Schurrle who narrowly missed with a shot over having come on after 69 minutes.
Hull’s best chance of the game was a Curtis Davies header in the second half that was saved by Petr Cech. Up in his executive box, Roman Abramovich gave a shy wave to the supporters when his face was beamed up on the screen. Earlier he had imparted a rare message to the fans on the cover of the programme, 29 words in all thanking them for supporting the club over his ten years in charge.
Later Mourinho said that the billionaire had been in the dressing room before the game to speak to the players, the first time that he had done so during Mourinho’s time in charge on the first day of a season. Yet the one thing that Abramovich does not appear to be able to conjure up is a deal for Wayne Rooney. It seemed when Mourinho talked around the subject of the Manchester United player after the game that the penny has dropped he will not be sold to them.
So if not Roo, then who? Romelu Lukaku was a late replacement for Torres but Mourinho still lacks that profile of striker that he outlined during the summer. That is, one to make things happen in the tight spaces rather than playing on the shoulder of the last defender and running in behind, as Torres does.
Even so, without Juan Mata and David Luiz this was an impressive start. Before the game, the Chelsea pitch announcer Neil Barnett, no stranger to controversy, had declared on the mic that he was “looking forward to introducing this manager more than I did the last one.” That was hard on Rafa Benitez, who delivered a trophy and Champions League football. But they know what they like at Chelsea.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech 6; Ivanovic 6, Cahill 6, Terry 6, Cole 6; Ramires 7, Lampard 7; Hazard 7, De Bruyne 8 (Schurrle 6, 69), Oscar 8 (Van Ginkel, 84); Torres 6 (Lukaku, 75).
Substitutes not used Schwarzer (gk), Essien, Mata, Ba.
Hull (4-3-3): McGregor 5; Elmehamady 5, Chester 5, Davies 5, Figueroa 5; Koren 6, Meyler 5, (Huddlestone 6, 59), Brady 6; Aluko 5 (Boyd, 78), Graham 5 (Livermore 6, 59), Sagbo 5.
Substitutes not used Harper (gk), Rosenior, Bruce, McShane.
Referee J Moss (Tyne and Wear)
Booked: Hull Meyler
Man of the match De Bruyne