Signs of the old Chelsea were everywhere to be seen on Sunday as Jose Mourinho walked out on to the pitch at the Stamford Bridge ground where not so long ago he was the undisputed king.
There to greet the old hero was his former captain John Terry while the 20th anniversary of the death of Matthew Harding, the popular vice-chairman who kickstarted the modern Chelsea, was marked in the match programme.
But from the moment Marcos Alonso set up Chelsea’s first goal in a 4-0 rout of Mourinho’s Manchester United with a beautifully weighted pass down the left, all our yesterdays were replaced with a thrilling glimpse of the club’s future.
Alonso is a vital cog in the new 3-4-3 formation that manager Antonio Conte now employs, which has delivered three successive victories and appears to have liberated Eden Hazard, who remains Chelsea’s main creative force.
To score against the manager for whom he struggled to produce his best form last season must have been particularly satisfying for the Belgian although he was careful not to mention Mourinho’s name when asked about his motivation after the game.
“The performance gives us a lot of confidence,” Hazard said. “We started well and for us it was a very good afternoon. It was a big game, particularly because we have lost a couple of big ones against Liverpool and Arsenal.
“Today I did well and we deserved it. In football, the most important thing is the three points. We have won three in a row.”
Victor Moses, who has been reinvented as a wing back by Conte, and David Luiz, brought back into the Chelsea fold after being sold by Mourinho, also had particular reasons to cherish Sunday’s win under a manager who has given them fresh hope.
Luiz is currently keeping Terry, Mourinho’s favourite son, out of the side and although his defensive capabilities were hardly tested on Sunday and he could have been sent off for a high, studs-up challenge on Marouane Fellaini, Conte sees him as the lynchpin of the new system.
Where Moses and Alonso gave Chelsea options, United’s wide men struggled to make any meaningful impact on a game that was effectively settled after 20 minutes. From that point, Chelsea simply sat back and hit on the counter-attack. Had Mourinho been able to see through his growing anger at United’s schoolboy defending, he might even have nodded approval because here was an example of the new and old combined.
Conte has taken one of the club’s great strengths, repackaged it in a new formation, and unleashed it on their former manager. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich must be delighted at how time has moved on.