Jose Mourinho feels Chelsea have plenty of room for improvement despite making a perfect start to the new Premier League season – but he is happy to take things “step by step”.
The Blues needed more than an hour to finally break down the resistance of a well-organised Leicester side, looking to make their own statement after a decade out of the top flight.
Mourinho had slammed his team as “lazy” in a first half which saw them create few chances, before they rallied, but only after Foxes striker David Nugent had seen a one-on-one chance saved by goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, again picked ahead of Petr Cech.
The Chelsea boss was pleased with the response, Brazil international playmaker Oscar hitting the post and £32 million (Dh53.03m) centre forward Diego Costa then scoring his second goal in as many games with a smart close-range finish just after the hour.
Eden Hazard then stroked in a second on 77 minutes which killed off any hope of a comeback by last season’s Championship winners.
Mourinho had opted to switch to afternoon training sessions this week in a bid to avert any lethargy from the traditional August sunshine, which failed to materialise.
The Portuguese coach feels things are moving in the right direction and Chelsea can soon find another level when the fixtures start to come thick and fast once the Capital One Cup and Champions League campaigns begin.
“I know that we need to work and improve, especially on the intensity of our game, which I want to be higher defensively,” said Mourinho.
“But at the same time I know pre-season was not perfect and we need to go step by step.
“For example, Willian played a fantastic 20 minutes, showing he is coming along, but if I play him from the beginning, his answer would not be the same, also with Ramires.
“I know some players are at the top of their form, like (Branislav) Ivanovic, you can see clearly he is completely ready, and by the other way you can see some players are still up and down, have moments where they lose intensity and creativity.
“But I think this is the beginning of the season, we go step by step.”
Leicester’s fate is unlikely to be sealed by results at the title contenders, rather what they are able to do against the sides set to contest the battles in the other half of the table.
The Foxes will get some respite when they host Shrewsbury in their midweek cup tie, before preparing for the visit of Arsenal next Sunday.
Real Madrid welcome Sami Khedira back into their squad for tonight’s La Liga opener at the Bernabeu against newly-promoted Cordoba, managed by former Barcelona full-back Albert Ferrer.
Khedira was controversially left out of Friday’s Super Cup defeat against Atletico amid speculation that he was set for a transfer, but manager Carlo Ancelotti has now confirmed that Khedira is staying.
Following a long period of speculation over the midfielder’s future, the Italian declared himself very happy with the options at his disposal in the centre of the pitch.
“With Kroos, Khedira, Alonso, Illarramendi, Modric and Isco, our midfield is well covered,” he said. “This team won’t have problems scoring goals, but we want to be both fast and solid.”
Ancelotti will be without left back Fabio Coentrao with a knee injury, and he has to decide whether to risk Cristiano Ronaldo after a pre-season campaign which the Bernabeu boss admitted has been “irregular because he needed individual work to solve his niggles.”
The game will also see the end – for now – of the latest goalkeeping debate at Madrid with Ancelotti finally forced to pick between veteran Iker Casillas and new signing Keylor Navas.
Casillas was selected for the UEFA Super Cup and both legs of the Spanish Super Cup, but Ancelotti has refused to confirm whet-her he will remain between the posts for the league campaign and allowed the controversy to conti-nue by saying: “I’m not going to say who will play, and that’s that.”
Atletico get their title defence underway tonight with a short trip to the outskirts of Madrid to face Rayo Vallecano.
Manager Diego Simeone is barred from the dugout after receiving his fifth yellow card on the final day of last season, but he claimed to be relaxed about the prospect of assistant German Burgos directing proceedings from the sidelines.
“German has the capacity and confidence,” said Simeone. “It gives me peace of mind that we understand football in the same way.
“He will sit on the bench and I will see it from another place.”
Simeone also confirmed that goalkeeper Miguel Angel Moya, a summer arrival from Getafe, will keep his position between the posts ahead of young Slovenia international Jan Oblak.
The Atletico manager also laughed off suggestions from Barcelona boss Luis Enrique that his team should be regarded as favourites to retain the title, saying that his response to Enrique is: “Silence, silence and only silence.”
Barcelona made light work of their La Liga opener, overcoming a first-half red card for Javier Mascherano by cruising to victory over Elche as Lionel Messi struck twice.
The Argentine superstar’s goals came either side of a debut goal for 18-year-old forward Munir El Haddadi, who showed he is more than ready for first-team action with a sharp performance as Luis Enrique’s reign got off to a convincing start, albeit against weak opposition at the Nou Camp.
Enrique selected a new-look side featuring summer signings Claudio Bravo, Jeremy Mathieu and Ivan Rakitic, as well as young forwards Rafinha and Munir El Haddadi.
There were ominous signs for Barca and Enrique just after kick-off as the game had to briefly be suspended due to a black cat running on to the pitch. But there was to be no shock result on a night when the Blaugrana played with consistency and cohesion, despite the multitude of summer changes both on the field and in the dugout.
Barca monopolised possession immediately but were unable to create any clear chances until midway through the opening period when skipper Andres Iniesta released Munir, who turned to crash a fierce left-footed drive against the left upright.
The lively Messi then had his first sight of goal after playing a neat one-two with Rafinha, but he uncharacteristically sent his 20- yard shot a long way over the bar.
The woodwork again denied Barca when space opened up for Iniesta and the midfielder unleashed a long-range thunderbolt, which thumped against the crossbar with Przemyslaw Tyton well beaten.
Further chances came and went as Rakitic cut back a clever free-kick to Alves but the full-back volleyed wide, and then Messi slid a perfect pass through to Munir but he wasted the opportunity by attempting to find Rafinha when he should have shot.
The deadlock was broken as the half-time whistle approached, and with a sense of inevitability it was Messi who ended Elche’s resistance as he received a pass from Sergio Busquets on the edge of the box, turned sharply away from two defenders and arrowed a low left-footed strike into the bottom corner.
Immediately, Elche were handed a lifeline when Barca’s defence misjudged a long ball, speedy winger Garry Rodrigues burst clear and last man Mascherano made referee Fernando Teixeira’s decision to brandish a red card easy with a clear trip just outside the 18-yard box.
Perhaps concerning for Enrique is how susceptible his side looked to that long ball over the top. A hallmark of their poor defensive displays under Tata Martino.
Rafinha was sacrificed at half-time for Marc Bartra, with Enrique leaving nothing to chance and ensuring his four-man defence remained intact.
And the game was finished as a contest in the opening minute of the second half when Rakitic’s lofted pass over the top of the static Elche defence, clipped the head of a defender, and Munir allowed it to bounce before chipping home a delightful half-volley with the outside of his left boot for a memorable debut goal.
The lead was soon extended with a goal which Messi make look easy, combining with Alves and dancing into the penalty area before rolling a low shot into the left corner with nonchalance.
Munir was replaced to a standing ovation and his replacement Pedro nearly made it four when he ended a surging run with a fierce strike to warm Tyton’s palms, but Barca were playing at little more than walking pace with both teams clearly willing the clock to tick down.
Bravo ended up not having to make a single save on his debut as the hosts eased through the final stages, and Barca fans finished the game chanting their new manager’s name.
Man of the match
Aside from his goals, the most encouraging aspect of his performance was his willingness to work hard for the team by chasing back and making tackles – something lacking for much of last season.
So far, so good for Luis Enrique as a new era dawns at Barcelona. Although Elche offered little resistance, lacking the necessary energy or tenacity to defend effectively against Barca, this was an efficient performance from the hosts and particularly encouraging for the fact that they performed with a convincing shape and structure. Bigger tests will follow, but Enrique could ask for no more.