With questions and concerns growing at one end of the pitch over Wayne Rooney, the form of Matteo Darmian must relieve Manchester United fans. All praise Mr. Dependable...
Premier League 3rd FA Cup semi-finals League Cup semi-finals Champions League group stage Europa League winners European Super Cup runners-up Community Shield runners-up
Manager Jose Mourinho (since June 2013) Odds on being first out of his job 66-1 (20th)
Players in Andre Schurrle (Bayer Leverkusen, £18m), Marco van Ginkel (Vitesse Arnhem, £8m) Mark Schwarzer (Fulham, free)
Players out Jeffrey Bruma (PSV Eindhoven, £2.5m), Florent Malouda (Trabzonspor, free), Ross Turnbull (Doncaster, free), Gael Kakuta (Vitesse Arnhem, loan), Oriol Romeu (Valencia, loan), Thibaut Courtois (Atletico Madrid, loan), Yossi Benayoun, Paulo Ferreira (released)
Club turnover in 2011-12 £261m (2nd)
Handicap betting to win Premier League +0 points (1st)
A judge in Tennessee has just ruled that a baby cannot be named Messiah because that title has been taken. Quite right too (despite the 762 babies given that name in the United States last year), to judge from the reaction to Jose Mourinho's return to Chelsea.
Six years after his acrimonious departure, the Portuguese takes over a team that finished third last season, 14 points adrift, and they immediately become co-favourites for the Premier League title. It helps that the two sides that finished above them also have new men in charge but nonetheless it is a rare endorsement of an incoming manager. Manchester United's standing is based on their being champions, Manchester City's on 2012's success, huge summer spending and the belief that they underachieved last season. Chelsea's standing, despite the arrival of Andre Schurrle and Marco van Ginkel, is based in large part on the belief in one man. One very, very confident man.
Yet the landscape is much changed from his first arrival in 2004. No longer does Roman Abramovich have the deepest pockets and financial fair play limits the extent to which he can dip into them anyway. Claudio Ranieri failed to make the most use of the Russian's first spend in 2003 and the acquisition of Petr Cech, Arjen Robben, Paulo Ferreira, Didier Drogba, Ricardo Carvalho et al meant the question was whether they could gel, rather than whether this looked like a title-winning squad. The same cannot be said today and the stiffest of rebuffs from Manchester United over Wayne Rooney leaves the summer recruitment incomplete.
A year ago, Roberto Di Matteo's European champions did enjoy an excellent opening to the Premier League campaign, with seven wins from eight matches (even if their troubles were prefigured by the Super Cup thumping handed out by Atletico Madrid) and fulsome gushing over the Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar combination. Defeat at home to Manchester United and in Donetsk checked momentum, and defeats at West Brom and Juventus brought an end to the Champions League defence and to the reign of a manager who had never truly had the confidence of Roman Abramovich.
A year earlier, Andre Villas-Boas also enjoyed a decent start to the season, with six wins and a draw in the first eight games - the hiccough coming in a 3-1 defeat at Old Trafford. Villas-Boas was still some way off his crisis, lasting all the way to March, but the importance of match-ups against United is unmissable. In May 2011 Carlos Ancelotti's side travelled to Old Trafford only three points behind, with an identical goal difference, and victory would have left them narrow favourites for the title. Instead they lost 2-1.
Perhaps Rooney could be put up as a prize for the match at Old Trafford on the second Monday. Mourinho plainly feels that Fernando Torres, Romelu Lukaku and Demba Ba are insufficient; Samuel Eto'o is making a pitch for a move from Anzhi but Mourinho is looking for a lead striker, not a supplemental one, which the 32-year-old Cameroonian would surely be.
This is Chelsea's third match of the season, following home games against Hull and Aston Villa; the latter has been brought forward because of the legacy of Rafa Benitez's Europa League win, a return to the Super Cup. There is a good chance to go to Old Trafford with six points, and who knows what will happen in a one-off match? But if the squad is not right on the morning of September 3 then sooner or later cracks will show.
As I wrote on his appointment, Mourinho has one advantage over his immediate predecessors: there is no Mourinho out there against whom they will be rated. But he can be haunted by his own past success and for all the talk of good relations between him and Abramovich the only thing that matters to the Russian is results. Confidence can help a lot in football, but Mourinho is surely tricking himself if he thinks it is going to be 2004 all over again.