If you took a quick glance at the top of the Barclays Premier League table and saw Chelsea you would assume that things were very much the same as they have been for the past five years since Roman Abramovich came to town. Yet look a little closer and you find that in fact things are much different.
It has long been claimed that Abramovich’s love affair with football began on a spring night at Old Trafford. Real Madrid had just triumphed over Manchester United by four goals to three, in one of the most enthralling encounters the Champions League had ever seen. Buoyed and captivated by this thrilling spectacle of the beautiful game, Abramovich bought Chelsea with the idea of this spectacle being available to him week after week. Scolari’s Chelsea is perhaps the first which comes close to fulfilling this ideal and providing their owner with entertainment week after week. Scolari’s team has been a revelation, attacking flair and efficiency combined and moulded together to form a team which leads the table thus far and promises to do so for the remainder of the year.
This new Chelsea is certainly a different beast to any which has borne the name in the Premiership in the era of Roman Abramovich. Vibrant and offensively minded, they are an awesome sight as they attack with speed and intelligence. The two full-backs overlap as wingers, Jose Bosingwa looking a bargain at £16 million, combining hard aggressive running with speed and attacking intent. While Ashley Cole finally appears to be back as the Arsenal version, who many felt was the best full back in the world, rather than Mourinho’s imprisoned version-banished to his own half with orders to stay there. In midfield, with John Mikel Obi covering the defensive side, and ensuring that Claude Makelele's departure is not as keenly felt as many suspected, the strongest part of Scolari’s tactical blueprint is allowed to devote itself entirely to unlocking the opposing team.
His attacking midfield surely ranks as one of the best in the world, Frank Lampard, perennially derided by opposition fans, is a goal-scoring midfielder of the highest order who consistently performs at a high-level week in week out and should easily match his goal-scoring feats from previous years. Michael Ballack, appears to be carrying on where he ended last season, a giant of a performer who is more than capable of picking a game up by the scruff of the neck and dragging Chelsea through, as well as providing goals and a physical presence in the midfield.
Finally, the pick of the bunch has to be Deco. Here is a man whose every performance gives heart to those who feel that the best player's play the game using the muscle between their ears more than any other. Deco is neither quick nor particularly strong, yet his cerebral dictations are as effective as anything in the league. Last week against Manchester United, Chelsea missed him, his ability to spot a pass that isn’t there, a neat drag back to divert the danger and his prowess with a dead ball. He provides this team with the real spark which unlocks even the stubbornness of defences and makes a mockery of those who claimed he would struggle with the pace of the English game. Even a totemic figure such as Michael Essien, whose injury would almost every other team in this league, hasn't been missed such is the strength of Scolari's midfield.
Scolari’s Chelsea finish with two forwards, a welcome change from watching the isolated frontman toiling alone upfront, in Anelka and Drogba he has two strikers whom most managers would kill for, one providing speed and trickery as well as coolness in front of goal. The other, power, strength and sheer brute force capable of breaking down any defence that stands in its way. These two supplemented by the tricks and skills of Joe Cole, last seasons player of the year and Florent Malouda, while still not matching his exploits at Lyon but improving all the time make this Chelsea team an awesome attacking threat, and one which embraces the style and dynamism of its Brazilian manager.
All of this makes this Chelsea team something very new for Abramovich to watch. While Ranieri’s team was rather undynamic in approach and style and unsuccessful with it. Mourinho’s team was wildly successful, yet ultimately he believed in style in small doses. Playing 4-3-3, Mourinho often relied on Robben and Duff to provide penetration behind a lone front man, with often only one or two men breaking from deep, while the fullbacks concentrated on defence. Wildly effective? Yes, but overly entertaining? Not unless you are a Chelsea fan. Grant’s team was very much similar to Mourinho, efficient yet unspectacular, and perhaps that is what makes this new team of Scolari so exciting.
While matching the efficiency of Mourinho’s team, Scolari has liberated Chelsea in a way which makes them a joy to watch. Both for neutrals and opposing teams, Chelsea are a very different team to what has been seen before, for the first time in a long time, they are a feast for the eyes, a liberated force, as vibrant, exciting and inventive a team as there is in this league and perhaps across Europe. And perhaps for that we should all join Abramovich in standing up and applauding Luiz Felipe Scolari and his team from Stamford Bridge.