Steve Bruce blown away as Wigan boss backs Chelsea to topple Manchester United
19 August 2009 11:35
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Steve Bruce puffed out his cheeks as he left the stage in the Sunderland press room and headed into the night.
'Thank Christ we only have to play them twice,' he said.
The Sunderland manager had just given his assessment of his Stadium of Light debut, which turned out to be a painful annihilation by Chelsea and a humbling experience for the former Wigan boss and his new players.
And in the final throes of his post-match press conference, Bruce was cross-examined for his thoughts on his opponents and their status as Barclays Premier League title favourites.
There was not much to add. In his pre-match media meeting Bruce had made it clear Sunderland were about to face one of the main challengers for Manchester United's crown.
'Whoever finishes above them will win the league,' he said.
Nothing in Chelsea's 3-1 win over his team will have changed his mind. His opposite number Carlo Ancelotti ditched the diamond and made four changes to the side which required a last-minute goal to beat Hull City on the opening day.
Didier Drogba was employed as the lone striker with Michael Ballack, Frank Lampard and Salomon Kalou encouraged to support the Ivory Coast star and Deco left to conduct proceedings with devastating results around them.
He was unplayable. In fact the Portuguese maestro was so good he was applauded by the majority of Sunderland supporters when Ancelotti withdrew him for the last five minutes.
'He did that to me in the first game of last season,' Bruce reflected. 'He put in a wonderful performance and scored a great goal from nothing.'
Midfield masterclass: Deco put in a fine shift at the Stadium of Light
Bruce is convinced whatever system the former AC Milan coach employs over the coming months, he will put out an efficient unit which will maintain a challenge to United.
Once a title winner himself, could take some encouragement from his own team's performance for the first hour at least, but admitted they had been blown apart by one of the best sides in Europe.
Bruce said: 'Chelsea were very, very impressive. In the first half we had the energy and had to be at our best but I was not comfortable over the 90 minutes.
'We all want to get to the very top and that is what we aspire to but these teams - Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal - are the best in Europe.
'They have proved that and they play in our league and that is why it is very difficult to compete against them.
'I watched them against Hull and it took them until the last minute to win it but they had 27 attempts on goal. They are as good as I have seen from Chelsea for a long time.
'I think our supporters realise and we all know that for an hour we stood up against them but we conceded a poor goal from a corner.
'We have seen people at the top of their game and you have to learn from them. They are the real deal, which is why they are at the top of the tree.'