Paul Parker

Villas-Boas must help Chelsea evolve

Paul Parker

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Andre Villas-Boas has certainly got off to a decent start as Chelsea manager. While the two Manchester clubs have been grabbing all the headlines with various demolition jobs, the Blues have snuck quietly under the radar.  

While they have not matched United and City in terms of thrills, they are still for the most part getting the results. Indeed, they were the only British side to win in Europe this week, and would be level on points at the top of the Premier League were it not for that opening-day draw at Stoke.

But the trip to Old Trafford will undoubtedly be the biggest test of his career in England so far, and Villas-Boas has to be decisive. Will he put a great show of faith in Daniel Sturridge and start him or stick with Fernando Torres? Does he have the courage in his convictions to drop Frank Lampard for the second game in a row?

Although Torres is not the same player who once terrorised United, he should still have enough experience to keep his place ahead of the younger, quicker Sturridge. But Chelsea do need some degree of pace in their team if they are going to try and get something away to the champions, and that could mean Lampard making way for Raul Meireles. The new signing from Liverpool is not exactly the quickest himself, but to play with Lampard at this stage of his career is to accept that your midfield will lack energy and pace.

Villas-Boas has already shown he can make big decisions as and when he sees fit, such as when he substituted Salomon Kalou against West Brom after just 35 minutes, or when he has benched Torres and Lampard.

Omitting those two stars was down to resting them for the subsequent games, but he needs to start reshaping this Chelsea team sooner or later.

The Porto team he guided to such great success last season was a joy to behold, full of speed and attacking intent. It will not be possible for him to make that happen overnight at Stamford Bridge, but it is surely why Roman Abramovich pushed so hard to get him. It would be odd for the Russian to pay such a huge amount of money in compensation for a manager if he is not going to let him do things his way. What is the point in spending £13.5 million if he just wants a puppet in the dugout for him to manipulate?

No Chelsea manager has deviated too far away from the template laid down by Jose Mourinho, and for good reason. It has brought in a certain amount of success since his departure, just not as much as Abramovich would have liked given the resources he has pumped into the club.

That is why Villas-Boas is here, to bring the trophies to the club but also to win them in the right way. There must only be so long the club's benefactor can keep patience with watching his obscenely expensive team grind out efficient victories, especially when he looks at the amazing transformation in Manchester City since the start of the season.

As I said earlier in the week, it is far too early to write the title race off as an all-Manchester affair. Chelsea will still have a big say in the destination of the trophy this season. But it looks like they will gradually get left behind if they fail to evolve.

- - -

I have been very interested by the reports from New Zealand about the England rugby team's supposedly wild night out following their first World Cup match.

While it looks like the stories have been spun and sensationalised despite nothing much really happening, I can only imagine what it would have been like had the nation's footballers been in exactly the same situation. A state of national emergency might have been declared, with plenty of hand-wringing columns asking what it says about our society that a few footballers went out and drank too much. But, because it is the rugger boys, it's fine.

I have a certain amount of sympathy with what the rugby players must have to endure physically during a match, and the need to unwind sufficiently afterwards. But they are at the biggest tournament imaginable in their sport that only comes around once every four years.

No one in the Italia '90 squad went out while we were there. I personally didn't have a drink for about six or seven weeks.

In my eyes, the most shocking thing that happened after that laboured win over Argentina was that head coach Martin Johnson let them go bungee jumping. How can a national sporting association like the RFU spend so much money on medical staff, dieticians and analysts to pore over every detail of their players' physical being, and then just let them jump off a bridge? Again, if the FA allowed its players to indulge in such activities in Poland and Ukraine they would get hammered.

This is the reason why Fabio Capello had to keep his squad holed up in the middle of nowhere during last year's World Cup, for fear of just the sort of headlines the rugby players attracted this week. It was clear how much that damaged team morale in South Africa.

Perhaps if the media were not so keen to generate such outrage around their sporting heroes, then the players could be trusted to unwind a little in public and therefore perform without so much pressure.

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