Mourinho needs to remember former Chelsea glory days to win again
Chelsea under Jose Mourinho have never been in this position before. The Blues are fourth from bottom in the Premier League after five games and, having started the season as favourites for the title, are now 11/1 with Coral to retain it.
While it is easy to blame their poor start on a lack of activity early on in the transfer market, or the fact they started pre-season later than most, these reasons are unlikely. As is complacency.
The main reason could be far more obvious. Other teams have found out how to play against them. They began last term with a new brand of football, incorporating quick passing around new centre forward Diego Costa, who appeared unplayable, and they swept teams aside, storming into a commanding lead at the top of the league.
All of a sudden, opposition are pressurising them while on the ball, forcing mistakes and while a late start to pre-season might be responsible for a lack of sharpness, the Blues don’t seem to have a Plan B.
Looking back at all of Mourinho’s trophy winning sides, each one of them, barring last season’s was built on firm defensive principles, playing percentage football, striking on the counter-attack at pace with fast wingers and a nuisance of a centre forward in Costa’s mould.
His first stint at Chelsea, saw him utilise Claude Makelele as a lone anchorman protecting on a solid defence of John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho and savvy full backs.
The pace of Arjen Robben and Damien Duff on either wing played a huge role in the way Chelsea operated, with defenders’ nightmare Didier Drogba leading the line. Frank Lampard’s box-to-box presence provided the perfect balance.
Blues boss Mourinho may have the solution right in front of him. Other clubs have shown in recent years that when in trouble you go back to basics, as Alan Pardew did when he took over Crystal Palace; though, compared to others, he has the blueprint already embedded in his head. It is also proven.
Playing with a high line this term simply hasn’t worked and, it isn’t Chelsea. Terry has never been the type of centre back to operate far up the pitch and also, as a result of this, it has caused congestion in their final third, with their attackers nowhere near on the same wavelength as any of Barcelona’s personnel who command that system.
There is no problem with the current back four, apart from how they are being told to play. Terry was the best defender in the Premier League last term, while Kurt Zouma is a natural with his athleticism and ability to read the game.
Although, admittedly Branislav Ivanovic is nowhere near the player he was last term and it is perhaps time to accept that Cesar Azpilicueta should be shifted from left back to his natural position on the right. To come in, Abdul Baba Rahman has shown that he has all the raw qualities to be a success, including pace and tenacity in the tackle. Why spend in excess of £20m on him otherwise?
This season, their double pivot simply isn’t working and should be scrapped. Nemanja Matic has proven he can do this role effortlessly, and with two more in front of him, all he has to do is worry about defensive responsibilities.
Perhaps missing, is a Lampard-esque player who can adopt the box-to-box role. Paul Pogba would be the perfect candidate, though Ramires showed in the Blues Champions League winning season that he can embody this role in a 4-3-3 and to good effect. This would then free up Fabregas to concentrate on being his creative best.
However, as with Mourinho’s previously successful Chelsea sides, wingers were arguably the most important component of their direct attacking play.
While Robben was still outstanding for Bayern Munich last season, Eden Hazard is just as good and allowing the Belgian to play on the counter-attack, like the Dutchman does at his best, could see the Blues flying again.
Further, Mourinho has Pedro Rodriguez on the other flank and the two current options combined, are arguably better than Robben and Duff were, though like he had Joe Cole as an alternative before, there is also Willian.
Use of width on the counter-attack could be the key to unlocking Costa and even loan signing, Radamel Falcao’s potential, with both players capable of battling centre backs and getting on the end of crosses. If the latter can get back to his best, playing in this system as well, Chelsea could surge up the league.
Mourinho’s answer isn’t a drastic deviation from the norm. A simple tweak and a reminder of the glory days, might be all that’s needed.