Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho can only admire Manchester United's firepower
The sequence of League results when Jose Mourinho first became manager of Chelsea in 2004 suggested his team would be successful, if unexciting: 1-0, 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 0-0, 0-0, 1-0, 1-0, 0-1.
Only after that did they begin to cut loose, scoring four goals half a dozen times before Christmas, yet even by the time he left, after finishing top of the table twice and in second place once, neither the perception nor the statistics had greatly changed.
Fernando Torres, Demba Ba and, for now, the promising Romelu Lukaku do not look like the players to alter them; hence the continued pursuit of either Wayne Rooney or an alternative after tonight's game against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
In each of those three previous campaigns Chelsea conceded the fewest goals in the Premier League – an extraordinary, record-breaking 15 in the first season – and in none of them were they top scorers. One of the many intriguing questions about Mourinho's return is therefore whether the tactical emphasis will change from one suggesting that, to coin a phrase, defence is the best form of counter-attack.
Counter-attacking was what Mourinho's earlier teams did best and what they were set up for. Furthermore, once ahead, Chelsea tended to stay there. Not until that third stuttering season did they lose a League game after taking the lead. All this was brought back by last Sunday's opening game against Hull City when, following the anticipated love-in for the Returning One, an inferior team were brushed aside in the opening 25 minutes, after which Chelsea applied what Arsène Wenger calls the handbrake.
Last Wednesday Stamford Bridge might have expected more of the same after another early goal, but Aston Villa confirmed that they are made of sterner stuff and there was characteristic Mourinho-style controversy before a second successive win was achieved.
Now comes the test of a first away game against the champions themselves. He insists he is looking forward to it, at one of his favourite grounds, the glamour of United and Old Trafford having not diminished in his six years away, even without his old adversary Sir Alex Ferguson in the opposing dug-out. "Playing against Manchester United, I always say the same, it gives me pleasure. Last year we were playing Champions' League knockout phase and everybody in Madrid had some tension but I was happy. I like the stadium, I like the opponent, I like the difficulty of the game, I like it very, very much."
Unbeaten or not in eight previous meetings with David Moyes, Mourinho knows that away games against Everton were never straightforward, the four of them providing two draws and two wins by a single goal.
Ferguson's successor, meanwhile, understandably believes he is entitled to expect a stronger challenge from his new team than his old one, who in one of those Goodison games were actually bottom of the Premier League.
"I think there is [a difference]," Moyes said. "There is the idea that we are out there to win and I will do everything I can to take that on. I think there are differences but that comes down to the level of players and quality. If you've got a bad team, you can play an attacking team and get beat 5-0. You have to get the balance right and that is where the most successful coaches come in, and I think Jose has done that over the years."
The perception a year ago, of course, was that Mourinho could well be the next United manager, which Moyes was happy to accept. "Quite rightly so. He was probably the best of the modern young managers. He would quite rightly be attracting all the top jobs."
In United's favour tomorrow will be having two forwards that Chelsea would love to get their hands on; not just Rooney but also Robin van Persie, who must stand out as the obvious example of why not to sell a player to a domestic rival. "I was quite worried when I came in," Moyes admitted, "because I had lost [Dutch coach] Rene Meulensteen, who I knew was quite close to Robin. But I've got to say, ever since he joined up [on the pre-season tour] in Sydney he has been terrific.
"The biggest thing for me is how much he has bought into it, his work ethic and how much of a team player he is at the moment. He has been very humble in the way he is asking the players to help him and the service he would like to get.
"I asked him the other day how many medals he has won and he said one. I saw the glint in his eyes to say, 'I need more than one' and so do I."
Manchester United v Chelsea is on Sky Sports 1 tonight, kick-off 8pm
Head-to-head: Moyes (P8 W0 L5 D3) vs Mourinho
6.11.04 (Prem) Chelsea 1 Everton 0
Chelsea go top for the first time under Mourinho with Arjen Robben's goal.
12.2.05 (Prem) Everton 0 Chelsea 1
James Beattie is sent off after eight minutes and Eidur Gudjohnsen's goal keeps Chelsea top.
23.10.05 (Prem) Everton 1 Chelsea 1
Mourinho furious about disallowed goal as Chelsea drop first points of the season to Beattie's penalty.
28.1.06 (FA Cup) Everton 1 Chelsea 1
Another Goodison draw as Frank Lampard equalises James McFadden's goal in a fourth-round tie.
8.2.06 (FA Cup) Chelsea 4 Everton 1
Two goals for Robben in comfortable replay win; Chelsea 3-0 up at half-time.
17.4.06 (Prem) Chelsea 3 Everton 0
Another three-goal victory leaves Mourinho one point from a second successive title.
17.12.06 (Prem) Everton 2 Chelsea 3
Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba score in last 10 minutes; Mourinho apologises after accusing Andy Johnson of diving.
13.5.07 (Prem) Chelsea 1 Everton 1
Drogba scores his 32nd goal of the season on the final day as Chelsea finish second and Everton sixth.
Chelsea's new Rooney bid
Chelsea will keep up the pressure on Manchester United by submitting a new bid for Wayne Rooney once tonight's match between the teams at Old Trafford is out of the way. Said Jose Mourinho: "We make the bid and they say no again, what do we lose? One e-mail?" To add spice to an already tasty occasion, United's new manager David Moyes says Rooney has "a great chance of starting" the game. United continue to insist there is no way Rooney will be allowed to leave.
Belfast Telegraph Digital