Jose Mourinho had repeatedly insisted last season, “We will get better.” Far from a cliche and The ‘Special One’ keeps his Words.
In reality, Mourinho has always been a ‘Second Season Manager.’ At Porto, he won the Champions League title despite winning the Premiera Liga, UEFA Cup and Taca de Portugal. In the Spanish capital at Madrid, Mourinho shook off Pep Guardiola’s invincibility to claim the Liga BBVA with a 100 points tally. At Chelsea though, it was different but the shade remained, in 2005-06 they did win the League but with four points less than the 2004-05 season. However, Mourinho had an explanation, “In our second season, we killed it from day one.”
This season too, the Blues have displayed a brilliant run of form, mustering 19 points from a possible 21 in 7 outings. A victory over ten man Manchester City looked ensured before their own son, Frank Lampard, restored parity for the Citizens. Buoyed by the plethora of riches in midfield with Cesc Fabregas’ incisive passing in midfield and Diego Costa’s hunger, the Blues have set the pace and already look like the team to beat.
A deeper insight reveals it was inevitable. Last term, Chelsea were in control of the title race, only to be left distraught by shock losses to Crystal Palace and Sunderland late in the season. Mourinho, however, masterminded home and away wins over runners-up Liverpool and eventual Champions, Manchester City. A sensible transfer market in the summer has ensured that the Blues have highlighted their title credentials early on.
Comparison with the 2004-05 team and the current setup
The approach has been robust, yet the same. While, in the 2004-05 season, there were always three central defenders in the back four, the current setup features four excellent defenders. While Paulo Ferreira was excellent in joining attacks up front, there were question marks over his defensive discipline. Branislav Ivanovic though masters both and is an attacking outlet from set-pieces and corners. Cesar Azpilicueta seems to be the best full-back in the league despite playing in an inverted role, keeping new signing Felipe Luis out with impressive shifts. William Gallas, though was more of a compact centre back, and Gary Cahill’s ability matches Ricardo Carvalho’s. John Terry remains the lone man standing who also featured in 2004-05.
In midfield, I explained earlier how Nemanja Matic is replicating the Makelele role and while there is no Frank Lampard in the team, and Fabregas has taken full responsibility in the middle of the park. The Spaniard’s combination with Diego Costa looks telepathic at times, scaring the opposition into a meek surrender. Iceland’s greatest son, Eidur Gudjohnsen, played at the top of the diamond in a more 4-3-2-1 role, which was compact like a 4-2-3-1 off the ball.
Brazilian midfielder Oscar, however, is a more complete player than Gudjohnsen, capable of tracking back whenever Chelsea lose the ball. While Gudjohnsen always joined Drogba up front, Oscar is more inclined at playing the runner role to perfection. Andre Schurrle or Willian definitely have looked more than utility players, and especially the latter who can also play in the number ten role make Chelsea a dangerous side on the break. Eden Hazard is certainly the team’s most vital cog in the wheel. The Belgian’s ability to wriggle past defenders is simply sumptuous. Each of the triumvirate can switch positions at ease behind the lone striker.
Up front, both Didier Drogba and Diego Costa are more or less the same kind of player. They also share the same traits, aggressive, dropping deep to build from the back and the sheer ability to run at defenders, flexing muscles with instant acceleration, holding their strength.
Mourinho’s methods certainly reflect a shadow of the past and his preferences to use his methods carry the same blue print. Whether or not Chelsea hold aloft the title in May is a different question, but it won’t be a surprise if they secure it even earlier.
Edited By: Girish Bhangre