x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas is a Portuguese man of war

The Chelsea manager has started to come under pressure, but he is sticking to his principles, and a 3-0 win at home to Wolves has eased the stress.

Andre Villas-Boas will not be deterred from his philosophy.
Andre Villas-Boas will not be deterred from his philosophy.

No concession, no alteration to a philosophy that Andre Villas-Boas promised "will be the last thing to die in this club". No, Chelsea's embattled manager simply clung tighter to his principles.

Frank Lampard dropped for Oriol Romeu, his young hope from Barcelona's academy. Fernando Torres kept out of the starting line-up for a fourth game in a row. And in return goals from John Terry, Daniel Sturridge and Juan Mata to overwhelm a weakened Wolverhampton Wanderers by half time.

When Villas-Boas persuaded Roman Abramovich to invest €15 million (Dh74.25m) extracting him from Porto this summer, he sold him on a philosophy. A declining Chelsea would be converted to a west London version of Barcelona inside three seasons.

The new manager's new Chelsea would defend higher up the pitch, press more aggressively, attack faster. They would dominate opponents and entertain Abramovich in a manner he had longed for.

Yet how do you emulate the unique? At Barcelona, La Masia streams talent into Pep Guardiola's first team, each player schooled in the technique needed to keep their football fluid and precise.

Stamford Bridge is no Camp Nou. Though Villas-Boas and Abramovich discussed the need to turnover the team's core - Terry, Lampard, Petr Cech and Didier Drogba - the Russian did not want it done dramatically.

Villas-Boas was asked to recruit youth - Romeu, Romelu Lukaku and Thibaut Courtois - to be integrated into the starting line-up over time. The manager was assured he would be given time do it properly.

Problems have steadily emerged. Villas-Boas felt too many players were failing to adopt tactical instructions. He thought Lampard is destructively obsessed with scoring and let the midfielder know it.

If there was a moment when players began questioning his ability to manage it came when Lampard, Terry and Sturridge were omitted from their Champions League tie at Genk.

Just embarrassed by Arsenal, senior players felt the team needed to reassert authority and morale with a victory that would effectively secure their passage to the knockout rounds. Instead they drew 1-1 in Genk, then lost to Liverpool and Bayer Leverkusen in two of their next three fixtures.

This is the first season for Villas-Boas in the Champions League and it now threatens his chances to coach longer at Chelsea. Before Leverkusen, support from above was unequivocal. Now, with a place fundamental to Chelsea's budgeting threatened both this season and next, concerns are leaking out.

Abramovich has been unimpressed by the lack of playing time afforded Torres and is uninterested in the manager's doubts over the forward.

Guus Hiddink waits in the wings. Ominously for Villas-Boas, the Dutchman is understood to have halted contract talks with the Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala. If that philosophy doesn't deliver against more challenging opponents than yesterday's it could be about to turn pragmatic.

sports@thenational.ae