In Jose Mourinho’s four seasons following a full first season as manager at a club he has won the league title. That trend looks like continuing at Chelsea and the process of the club winning the Premier League for the first time since 2010 can gain momentum with at least a draw away to Manchester United on Sunday.
The Special One was appointed manager of Porto in January 2002 and won the league, Portuguese Cup and UEFA Cup in 2003-04, while in his second full season Porto won the Champions League as well as the domestic title. He won two league titles in his first spell at Chelsea and the ruthless way his side dominated the opposition is being replicated this season.
They won 20 of their first 22 matches as Mourinho again built on the foundations he had laid in season one. Chelsea are the only unbeaten side in the Premier League and there is already talk of going through the season without losing a match both home ands away. In their toughest assignment to date they drew at Manchester City and only did not win ironically because Frank Lampard scored against them.
Mourinho won three trophies in one season when coaching Inter Milan. In his second term at Real Madrid the Spanish giants finished well clear of Barcelona to maintain his run of second-season success. Chelsea’s current crop of payers may not reach similar standards but winning the league is well within their capabilities. That feeling will be strengthened if they can avoid defeat at Old Trafford.
Last season’s squad was not put together by Mourinho and he repeatedly expressed his concern about its suitability to winning the league. Even so Chelsea reached the semi-finals of the Champions League and finished third in the league, only four points behind Manchester City while they beat runners up Liverpool home and away. They were the only side to beat City away in the league campaign.
The lack of a striker was seen as a major issue but that situation was rectified by the signing of Diego Costa from Atletico Madrid. The Spanish striker has scored nine league goals but his season has gone off track due to an injury sustained on international duty. Mourinho has no idea when he will be fit to return but he has little chance of playing against United.
Mourinho is not only annoyed with Costa’s hamstring injury sustained while away with Spain but the lack of communication from Vicente del Bosque has also riled him. In fact Mourinho has said that Roy Hodgson is the only national coach to have called him this season. The issue of club versus country is now pertinent in light of the debates surrounding Liverpool players Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling.
Sturridge was injured while on duty with England and Hodgson and Brendon Rodgers disagree about the circumstances. However, this pales into insignificance compared to the Sterling scenario and his request to be not considered to start for England as he was feeling tired. In any case the national coach should be communicating with club managers when the welfare of players in their care is at stake.
For Chelsea Cesc Fabregas has been outstanding and his link-up play with Costa will be missed against United. David Luis was offloaded for a ridiculous amount of money and after the World Cup he could have been more of a liability. Despite scoring a wonderful goal in the quarter-finals against Columbia he seemed to be affected more than most by the embarrassing 7-1 drubbing from Germany in the round of the last four. Filipe Luis looks a better option and Thibaut Courtois has returned from a loan spell at Atletico Madrid to compete for the goalkeeper’s shirt with Petr Cech.
Mourinho has already found several reasons to complain but deep down he know his squad are in better shape than the one at Manchester United. Louis Van Gaal has been given a target of qualifying for the Champions League as the club tries to recover from the brief David Moyes era. That situation was handled poorly and the choice of Sir Alex Ferguson to take over should have been given the respect to leave with dignity after at least one full season.
After eight matches United are ten points behind Chelsea and if they lose on Sunday they cannot win the league. Even with a draw the current gap would be maintained which makes United’s task impossible as Chelsea will not lose four league matches between now and next May. With City looking by far the second best team in the league United will be fighting with several teams to end the season in third or fourth which brings crucial Champions League football.
Their last match with West Brom was typical of United’s season and predicament. They looked a great side going forward but conceded two goals from virtually the only attacks West Brom mustered. Van Gaal said United created 13 decent chances but relied on an equaliser from Daley Blind in the 87th minute to secure a point.
After spending £150 million United bosses and their fans will be wondering about continual poor defending. Former player Gerard Pique is being discussed as a potential signing but he loves playing for and living in Barcelona and his celebrity girlfriend Shakira does not fancy a move to the north west of England. Pique played just 12 times in four years in his first spell at United but despite being out of favour at Barca a move to Manchester looks unlikely.
It has now become apparent that United’s current defenders are not fit for purpose. It was always going to be hard to replace Ro Ferdinand Nemanja Vidic and perhaps Fergie saw their demise coming. The departure of Patrice Evra means three quarters of the defence that served United so well left the club at the same time. The current incumbent of central defensive positions could be exposed by Chelsea even in the absence of Diego Costa.