It seems to be a recurring theme at Chelsea – once again a foreign manager has jetted in to Stamford Bridge bringing fresh ideas, charisma and, most importantly, a series of excellent results on the pitch.
Antonio Conte’s Chelsea already look big favourites to lift the Premier League title after going into Christmas with a six-point lead at the top of the table – a position from which they’ve never missed out on the title previously.
All of this is very reminiscent of when Jose Mourinho first arrived on these shores and turned perennial also-rans Chelsea into an almost unstoppable title-winning machine, and Conte has done a similar job here after revitalising a side that looked totally out of sorts for so much of last season, eventually finishing 10th.
So can Conte’s Chelsea go on to be as great as that 2004/05 Mourinho side? It’s obviously too early to tell if they’ll actually match the achievements of that team, but here’s an early look at their relative strengths and weaknesses…
Perhaps slightly unfairly, Mourinho’s Chelsea were never seen as a truly great attacking threat, despite some world class forward players in Didier Drogba, Arjen Robben and Frank Lampard.
Still, the stats certainly back up that view so far, with Conte’s Chelsea currently scoring at a better rate than that Mourinho side managed over the course of the 2004/05 season.
That year, Chelsea finished on 72 goals scored, but after 17 games this term they’ve already managed 35 goals.
This new-look Blues outfit know how to do the dirty work and grind out 1-0 wins (as they’ve done in their last three league matches) but they’re a bit more inclined to hand out the occasional thrashing as well (4-0 vs Manchester United and 5-0 vs Everton the best examples).
Chelsea goals per game
We’ll see if they can keep this scoring form going, but the way Eden Hazard and Diego Costa are playing right now, this Chelsea looks like slightly edging it in terms of world class attacking players.
Conte may have worked wonders with his use of a back three at Chelsea, but it’s hard to look past that Mourinho defence as one of the very best ever put together by a Premier League team.
Incredibly, the 2004/05 champions only let in 15 goals all season in the league, and kept 24 clean sheets in their 38 games. With John Terry, William Gallas, Ricardo Carvalho and Petr Cech all at the peak of their powers, perhaps that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.
This season the league leaders may only have let in two since changing to three at the back, but they’ve already let in 11 overall after a wobby start- when they let in nine goals in their first six games.
No matter how good surprise performers like David Luiz have been so far this term, it seems highly unlikely that they’ll manage to let in fewer than four in their remaining 21 matches, but good luck to them!
As mentioned above, that 2004/05 Chelsea side broke two records thanks to their watertight defence – fewest goals conceded over a whole Premier League season (15) and most clean sheets (24).
This Chelsea team, meanwhile, has done better in terms of consecutive victories, with Conte’s men winning eleven on the bounce in the league – joint-best in the club’s history along and the best ever to happen across just one season, with Mourinho only managing ten (and in his second season rather than his first).
Conte’s Chelsea are also highly unlikely to beat that Mourinho side’s record Premier League points total of 95. At the moment, the west Londoners are averaging 2.5 points per game, meaning that if they kept that up for the rest of the season they would, at best, go exactly level with 95 points, but that seems unlikely.
More realistically, this year’s Chelsea could beat the club record of 29 league wins in a single season, set by Mourinho in each of his first two campaigns at the Bridge. They need 16 more from their 21 remaining fixtures, which doesn’t look impossible judging from how they’ve been so far.
Finally, in terms of Conte vs Mourinho as managers, it is the Italian who edges the Portuguese with his start to life in England, with his record of 14 wins from his first 17 games the best ever start by a manager in the Premier League.