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Their football remains prosaic, but for Chelsea that matters less than that it continues to bring points. Without being at their best, José Mourinho present beat José Mourinho past on Wednesday night to take Chelsea two points clear at the top of Champions League Group H.
Mourinho has maintained the importance of putting aside the emotions of facing his former club, but some of those he has left behind are less inclined to move on. One fan clearly spat at him before kick-off.
For much of the game, that was as threatening as Porto got, as Chelsea, having taken an early lead, restricted their own attacks to the odd probing jab. Neutrals may lament the lack of excitement, but in fairness Chelsea won comfortably, and, after all, it was by the shrewd blending of the functional and the florid that Mourinho led Porto to the Champions League title last season. Yet there was a sense lon Wednesday night that victory was rather handed to them.
In the months since the departure of Mourinho, Paulo Ferreira and Ricardo Carvalho, Porto's defensive assurance has been compromised. When Aleksei Smertin volleyed in Eidur Gudjohnsen's cross to put Chelsea ahead, the only player even vaguely in a position to mark him was Frank Lampard, and Didier Drogba was similarly untended as he diverted Damien Duff's free-kick past a hopelessly ill-positioned Vitor Baia four minutes after half-time.
There was courage and quality about John Terry's headed third, but Pepe might have done more to prevent him diving to meet Lampard's free-kick.
"We are far from my ideal of football," Mourinho admitted. "From a defensive point of view we are really compact and strong. Even when our opponents have the ball you can feel the safety of our defensive line. With a better quality in last pass and in the choice of the last pass, it could have been easier for us."
There will come a time, though, when Chelsea have to stop relying on opponents to make errors. When Porto won the Champions League, they had a playmaker in Deco who was capable of unlocking any defence; but Chelsea do not even have anybody of the flair of Carlos Alberto or McCarthy, whose arrival in a double substitution 12 minutes into the second half briefly unsettled a Chelsea defence previously unperturbed.
On 67 minutes McCarthy he poked home the rebound after Petr Cech had parried a deflected shot from Carlos Alberto. That made it 2-1, but within two minutes, Chelsea, in the manner of champions, restored the comfort of a two-goal lead.
At present, though, it remains merely the manner of champions. Perhaps when Arjen Robben arrives to provide an attacking counterpart on the right to Duff on the left, their claims to greatness will have more substance, but for the moment this most workmanlike of sides remains a work in progress.
* Arsenal had to settle for a 1-1 draw at Rosenborg after Fredrik Ljungberg gave them an early lead. The Norwegians hit back through Roar Strand in the 52nd minute. Celtic lost 3-1 away to AC Milan, defeated by two last-minute goals.
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