When Sir Alex Ferguson took Manchester United to Stamford Bridge in August 2004 for the first Premier League match of a new campaign, Chelsea had not won a Championship for 50 years – the one and only in their long history. Then the ‘Special One’ came along. By the end of his first season, Jose Mourinho proved to be the long awaited messiah for the west London club. United were in the middle of another Ferguson rebuilding phase having finished third to Arsenal in the previous campaign, destined to concede the title to Chelsea in 04-05 then having to settle for runners up in the following season before reclaiming the title in 2006-07 for the first of another title hat trick.
The evidence of that Ferguson rebuilding period is provided by simply looking at the United line up for that Premier League fixture which pitted Sir Alex against Mourinho – Howard, Silvestre, G. Neville, Keane, Fortune (Bellion 84), Miller (Richardson 84), O’Shea, Djemba-Djemba (Forlan 73), Giggs, Scholes, Smith. It pretty much says it all! Bellion, Miller, Richardson and Djemba-Djemba were no more than Championship rather than Premier League players, Silvestre, O’Shea and Fortune borderline while Forlan and Smith were possibly merely unfortunate.
This is how Sporting Life.com reported that first Mourinho Premier League match – Having danced with delight at Old Trafford last season en route to a Champions League victory, Jose Mourinho this time contented himself with a simple handshake as he retained his superiority over Sir Alex Ferguson.
Then again, while Porto’s European victory was achieved with a last minute goal of heart stopping drama, the first Premiership victory of his reign as Chelsea coach was entirely straightforward.
With Eidur Gudjohnsen having put Chelsea into a 14th minute lead, Mourinho’s new club never once looked likely to allow their advantage to slip. The most worrying sign for Fergie was the tame way in which his team accepted their fate.
And so the Stamford Bridge gauntlet was thrown down, hot on the heels of Arsenal’s comfortable win away at Everton, with the early season problems for the United boss already mounting. Ferguson’s injury ravaged side may have recovered to take a lead in their midweek Champions League qualifying round first leg tie, but this time – just as in the Community Shield – they were clearly second best.
Not that Chelsea were entirely convincing themselves with Mourinho adopting the sort of defence first tactics after seizing an early lead which came unstuck for Sven-Goran Eriksson at Euro 2004. However, while France and Portugal both rallied against England, United suffered badly from the loss of Roy Keane from central midfield as he was being deployed as an emergency central defender.
While United started confidently enough, with Alan Smith directing an early header over the top, Chelsea soon seized the lead. United’s hesitancy in defence was exposed when Geremi took advantage of Quinton Fortune’s failure to control a clearance and the Cameroon international attacked down the visitors’ left flank. His deep cross was headed powerfully downwards by Didier Drogba towards Gudjohnsen, who clipped the ball too easily past Tim Howard who was slow off his line and hesitant in his attempted challenge.
Gudjohnsen then showed the strength to bundle the ball over the line as Keane desperately tried to recover in time. While Paul Scholes flashed a free kick wide shortly afterwards, Chelsea quickly broke free again only for Howard to dive at Drogba’s feet to claw the ball away in the nick of time.
United nevertheless regrouped and started exerting pressure of their own, but their final ball was still lacking and Scholes mishit one half chance well wide. Chelsea resisted those advances and seized back control, with Frank Lampard firing a free kick just inches wide of the far post.
Mourinho seemed relaxed enough to lounge on the Chelsea bench, with his feet up and a wide grin on his face, an expression matched by his boss Roman Abramovich, in the directors’ box. The former Porto boss was rather more animated at the start of the second half although United were still struggling to rouse themselves into any real action. Indeed, when even a player of the creative guile of Ryan Giggs starts crossing the ball straight into the crowd behind the goal, then you know that you have problems.
Mourinho tried to inject more energy into his side with Kezman replacing Drogba with 21 minutes left, although Ferguson’s options on the bench were rather more limited. When he finally acted, it was to replace Djemba-Djemba with Diego Forlan, but the Uruguay international blazed his best chance into the upper tier.
United were at least throwing men forward in the closing stages with Giggs directing a header just wide and Keane finally thrust forward into midfield along with substitute Kieran Richardson. However, Chelsea with defender Ricardo Carvalho sent into midfield late on, still prevailed and a late break by Russia’s Alexei Smertin brought a broad grin to Abramovich’s face. First blood to Mourinho.
Despite that defeat however, please remember the old saying that “Success is temporary – Class is permanent” Manchester United is the ultimate proof.
Chelsea – Cech, Paulo Ferreira, Gallas, Terry, Bridge, Geremi (Ricardo Carvalho 89), Makelele, Lampard, Smertin, Drogba (Kezman 70), Gudjohnsen (Parker 82). Goal – Gudjohnsen 15m.
Manchester United – Howard, Silvestre, G. Neville, Keane, Fortune (Bellion 84), Miller (Richardson 84), O’Shea, Djemba-Djemba (Forlan 73), Giggs, Scholes, Smith.
Is Sir Alex in the process of phasing in yet another great side?