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With Claudio Ranieri, the fun came in the press conferences. With José Mourinho, at least if Petr Cech's comments on Friday are to be believed, the fun comes in the training. If only Chelsea provided some fun on the pitch.

They won 14 games by a 1-0 scoreline last season, and have scored the only goal of the game in three of the nine games they have played this. Since Mourinho took over, Chelsea have yet to lose and have conceded only twice. He may be at the forefront of a new generation of managers, but the approach is traditional: build from the back and the rest will follow.

It was with a similar philosophy that Rafael Benitez, coach of Liverpool, Chelsea's opponents on Sunday, brought success to Valencia, after he, too, had succeeded Ranieri. In his first season there they won la Liga, and their leading scorer was Rubén Baraja, who didn't even make double figures. On the evidence of his first weeks at Anfield, following Gérard Houllier may prove rather more testing.

There have been some hugely encouraging performances, most notably against Monaco in the Champions League, but there have been some dismal ones as well. Luis Garcia has added a twinkle-toed invention where Emile Heskey brought merely endeavour, but essentially the old failings endure. Liverpool remain consistent only in their inconsistency, while Benitez's efforts to introduce zonal marking at free-kicks and corners has brought only confusion.

Premiership players have never found the system easy to accept and given that Porto's coach Victor Fernandez proclaimed Chelsea “the best headers of the ball in Europe” after his side's 3-1 defeat on Wednesday, dead-balls could be Liverpool's undoing on Sunday.

With Chelsea, though, the thought always remains: is that enough? The issue frustrates Mourinho, who has railed regularly this season against the Premiership's obsession with money, but when a club has spent £200m in two seasons, it is not unreasonable to expect more than solidity and free-kicks pumped into the mixer.

This, of course, is the paradox with which big clubs are faced particularly since Arsenal raised the aesthetic threshold by making it feel vaguely unseemly to score from corners. There is a danger that, once they begin to act like big clubs, the swagger becomes an end in itself, and not merely a by-product of superiority or a stick with which to remind others of their inferiority.

Arsenal are not entirely innocent of such preening, while Real Madrid of late have been almost wholly guilty. Under Sir Alex Ferguson, though, Manchester United have retained their chippiness, their sense that the world is conspiring against them.

Mourinho likewise has set about giving Chelsea the mentality of a smaller club, trimming the squad to 23, of whom six have started every game this season. The detail of his research is astonishing, as was proved by the touchline lecture, complete with pages of diagrams, he delivered to Tiago before the midfielder replaced Damien Duff on Wednesday: nobody is to be underestimated. Mourinho may have the sparkle of Brian Clough, but his faith in the power of the dossier is more reminiscent of Don Revie.

Significantly, Mourinho took time on Wednesday to praise the spirit in his side, referring archly to other big clubs where egos put themselves before the club. He has spoken also of the need to build a house from the bottom up, and in terms of spirit and defensive discipline the foundations would seem to have been laid.

Others, though and given Chelsea's opponents on Sunday, Houllier springs immediately to mind have reached that stage; the real test of Mourinho's mettle will be in how he goes on from there.

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