Thursday, 18 September 2014

Mourinho's Simple Blueprint Is Working Again

Jose Mourinho talked with a hint of sarcasm about his transfer policy during his post match interview on Sunday. He broke it down into three stages:
  1. Identifying the type of player they need.
  2. Identifying an individual.
  3. Getting them.
This incredibly simple philosophy of figuring out what your team needs then going out and getting it is basically what he's been doing his whole career and it is what he's doing again now in his second spell at Chelsea.

Even at this very early stage of the season, the infant Premier League table makes delightful reading for Chelsea fans, and spreads worry and fear among supporters of the other teams with designs on the crown. Chelsea have taken maximum points so far and find themselves 5 clear of champions City, 6 clear of last season's other two top four sides Liverpool and Arsenal and 7 clear of rank very much outsiders Man United.

The trio of Liverpool, Arsenal and City have all had to face one of each other in the opening four games and so naturally they can't have all taken maximum points. Chelsea have had a fairly handy start, the trip to Everton aside, but this comes to an abrupt end when they travel to Man City on Sunday. Is this a chance for City to make up ground and the chasing pack to start reeling Chelsea in? Probably not if recent history is anything to go by. Chelsea won both league games against City last year. They doubled Liverpool too and took 4 points from a possible 6 against Arsenal.

Their record against the top teams was incredible and often is. It was against the league's minnows that they came unstuck so many times last season. Their failure to pick a lock in stubborn resilient defences was what cost them the title and is where they are aiming to improve upon this year.

Losing at Palace was the blow that killed Chelsea hopes last year

And for this there is no better manager than Jose Mourinho. The best manager in the world has a particular talent for pinpointing exactly what a team needs in order to make them complete. It's difficult to achieve success right away, and although he has done this at most places, Mourinho's genius is emphasized by the remarkable record he has in 'second seasons' of his tenure at clubs throughout his career.

He revolutionized Porto in general, taking over towards the end of the 01/02 season, steadying the ship before making his mark in his first full season in charge. He made the most of quite a deep pool of Portuguese talent at the time. Among his signings were Ricardo Carvalho, Deco, Helder Postiga, Maniche and Paulo Ferreira, players that would form the core of this team and the Portuguese national team for years to come. Plenty would follow him to Chelsea a couple of years later. He won the Portuguese title in every full season he spent there, a UEFA Cup in 2003 and the biggest prize of all one year later, getting the better of the great Sir Alex Ferguson in their first ever meeting that year.

Second season Porto: Champions League win to accompany the Portuguese League title with a 100% home record.

Having won all he could at Porto, Mourinho moved to Chelsea where he was given significant financial muscle to build a super squad at Chelsea. He signed Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Ricardo Carvalho and Ashley Cole to add significant muscle to what was already a very strong Chelsea backbone. He constructed a perfectly balanced team from back to front and they swept to league titles in both 2004 and 2005. This team was based on a strong defence and quick counter attack football, exploiting the pace of Duff and Robben on the flanks.

Didier Drogba up front was the spearhead of the attack, Frank Lampard chipped in with an average of 20 goals a season from an attacking midfield role. Behind him, Michael Essien used his power and stamina to play the box-to-box role to perfection. Claude Makelele's role earned him the honour of having the position named after him. Mourinho's Chelsea were like nothing the country had ever seen before and left everyone standing for two whole seasons.

Second season Chelsea: Chelsea won a second consecutive Premier League title. By a mile.

Mourinho's next project took him to Italy and the task of taking dominant champions Inter Milan to the next level in Europe. Using the blueprint he had created at Chelsea, Mourinho's first signings were Mancini, Ricardo Quaresma and Sulley Muntari. Two quick wingers and a midfield powerhouse. Duff, Robben and Essien again. Inter won Serie A again in 08/09 but fell short in the Champions League, failing to score over two legs against United. Inter was solid defensively but lacked an attacking edge. Mourinho learned his lesson and plotted for next season.

Came, saw and conquered. Jose in Milan.

His solution was to sign striker Gabriel Milito and Wesley Sneijder. Samuel Eto'o also arrived from Barcelona in a deal which saw Zlatan Ibrahimovic (the most un-Mourinho type player imaginable) go the other way. Sneijder would be the key to unlocking defences in Europe in the number ten role. Eto'o brought Champions League winning experience and was a striker who was more than willing to put in a defensive shift. Milito was as potent a finisher as anyone. Nine months later, Milito was scoring twice in the Champions League final as Mourinho achieved his goal in his second season. Remarkable.

Second season Inter: The Treble. Serie A, Italian Cup and Champions League. First ever by an Italian side.

As he tends to do after winning a Champions League, Mourinho moved on to a new challenge. Real Madrid. Despite having recently broken the world record to sign Cristiano Ronaldo, Madrid were in a bit of a slump. The last two years had seen Barcelona make a meteoric rise led by Lionel Messi, dominating La Liga and winning a couple of Champions League titles for good measure. With Xavi and Iniesta pulling the strings in midfield, 2008-12 Barcelona had become recognised as one of the greatest of all time.

To put the gulf into perspective, Mourinho lost his first Classico 5-0 at Camp Nou. Barcelona were simply irresistible and played their rivals off the park. By the end of the season he was getting the better of them in the Copa Del Rey final.

Mourinho brought in Sami Khedira, Angel Di Maria and Mesut Ozil. Powerhouse, winger, playmaker. He also signed old favourite Ricardo Carvalho for a third time. 2010/11 was an improvement but they fell short in the league and Champions League to Barcelona. The following year however they were not to be denied a title. He didn't actually make many major signings ahead of the second season, it was more a case of Ronaldo (46 goals) and his signings Ozil and Di Maria (32 assists between them) hitting excellent form. Madrid won 32 out of 38 games, and broke the 100 goal and point barriers en route to a first La Liga title in four seasons.

Jose wrested the Spanish crown from Pep in Year 2

Ultimately Mourinho fell short of his goal of bringing the Champions League trophy 'home' to Madrid. Nevertheless, dislodging Pep Guardiola, Lionel Messi and that great Barcelona side from the top of the table was a fine achievement. His spell at Madrid was no failure.

Second season Madrid: Broke the dominance of Guardiola's Barcelona, securing a record number of La Liga goals and points as Madrid wrested the title from one of the greatest sides of all time.

His time at Madrid ended in acrimony and in the summer of 2013. Having failed to win a trophy in a season where he fell out with many senior players at the club, the two parties agreed a mutual separation at the end of the season. Not fancying the dole queue, a couple of weeks later 'The Special One' found himself back in charge of Chelsea.

 In their first season, as if to dampen expectations he seemed to constantly complain about the squad he had inherited, laying the blame for this barren campaign firmly at the feet of Rafael Benitez and others who had gone before him. Midway through the season he had identified the problems and set about coming up with solutions. He sold Juan Mata, like Ibrahimovic before, simply not a Mourinho player, for £37m and reinvested it in Nemanja Matic, a midfielder enforcer from Benfica who would take the place of the much maligned John Obi Mikel.

Matic: The rock upon which Mourinho began to build

Matic was exceptional in the second half of the season and it is no coincidence that Chelsea's defensive record with him in the side was considerably better than it had been without him in the first half of the season. Still, some unexpected slip ups towards the end of the season saw them fall behind Man City and Liverpool, finishing in 3rd place.

As mentioned before, Chelsea's downfall last season was their record against the lesser sides in the divisions. Their two biggest wins came away to City and Liverpool where they played deep and on the counter attack where they had plenty of space in the final third to attack in. When things were a bit more congested, they really struggled to create openings. Mourinho's men looked out of ideas when faced with a blanket defence. Chelsea created the same number of chances last season as Fulham, who finished 19th.

That and their strikers. Mourinho had Torres, Ba and Eto'o to choose from. An expensive flop who has been devoid of any sort of confidence for about four years, a mid-table quality striker with no knees and an old sluggish legend. Between them they managed just 19 Premier League goals. Liverpool's strikers pitched in 52 and City's contributed 45. Easy to see where Chelsea fell short.

To address this, Chelsea did the bulk of their business in the first weeks of the transfer window paying the guts of £30m each for Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa. Fabregas, played out of position for virtually his whole time at Barcelona, is still the playmaking genius that left Arsenal three years ago, capable of picking holes in any defence through his vision and passing. What he is not is a false nine or a number ten which is where he played for a decent chunk of his spell at Camp Nou. Diego Costa is the powerhouse, spearheading, goal machine that Chelsea's title challenge lacked last season. Seven goals in his first four league games is a frighteningly good start, the best ever by a Premier League newcomer.

The way they've set up in most games so far this season is pretty much what you would expect. Hazard on the left with Willian/Schurrle on the other side and Oscar through the middle as the advanced playmaker, with Fabregas in the deeper role. Matic holds and rarely looks to support attacks. Costa leads the line, exploiting the flanks as he loves to do.

For the big games, starting this weekend at  City, I think Mourinho will adopt a more defensive approach, as he usually does, and play an extra centre midfielder in Ramires. Cesc's role won't change much. The only difference in this set up is the lack of a luxury player, Oscar, in attack.

Having sorted out the defence towards the end of last term, Jose has now fixed his attack and brought in the players he wants. Last year if Hazard didn't show up, Chelsea would struggle to score. Now they've another excellent option in Costa and Fabregas will create bagfuls of chances for the other attacking players. They've responded by averaging nearly four goals a game over the first month of the Premier League season. They've a 100% record and are already more than a win clear of all of their genuine challengers for the title. It is a throwback to 05/06 where they won all their first nine league games, being out of sight by October.

Chelsea are on the march again. A genuine Mourinho Chelsea side has only been stopped once in the Premier League before. This was in 2006/07 by the combined brilliance of the old master Sir Alex Ferguson and his new team led by an emerging Cristiano Ronaldo at Man United. It will take the emergence of a force of equal magnitude to this legendary axis in order to prevent Chelsea from storming to the Premier League title this season.

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