Jose Mourinho’s life at Chelsea hasn’t been made any easier. It was never going to be as simplistic as reinstating Juan Mata into the starting XI to improve results. The Spanish midfielder did help to improve on a number of dire performances at the start of the season, but the problems, as seen under previous managers, run deeper.
Mourinho should be thriving under this sort of pressure. Unlike at Porto when he won back-to-back European competitions, there is now a great deal of expectancy. But similarly there was a backs-to-the-wall mentality that he created at his previous clubs, forcing his players to ride against the tide of those who expected little and bring results and in turn trophies. This is where Mourinho will reinforce his now famous moniker.
The problems are not insurmountable. Mourinho has one of the strongest and most talented squads in Europe, let alone the Premier League. Rising to the occasion isn’t beyond him. He did it at Real Madrid, leading a squad of superstars past Pep’s Barcelona and to the La Liga title. Had it not been for a week which saw Madrid play Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Bayern Munich again – combined with Mourinho’s lack of willingness to rotate – Madrid could have and should have won the Champions League in 2012.
Remember, that was a Madrid who initially suffered a 5-0 loss at the Camp Nou under Mourinho but who gradually got better, first claiming the Copa Del Rey and then overtaking Barca in the league.
The Premier League doesn’t have a team as good as that Barcelona or this current Bayern Munich. Each team, even league-leaders Arsenal, have their shortcomings. But Mourinho is the man who has been entrusted long term to deal with the problems that have prevented Chelsea from challenging for league honours since the first season under Carlo Ancelotti. Mourinho is not the then inexperienced Andre Villas-Boas, nor is he figure of hate and derision Rafa Benitez was at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea’s problems appear clear-cut: the strikers aren’t producing. Mourinho, like most, can see that this trio – Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba – are not of the required quality or consistency to fire a team to the league title. But add that to the real problem of a flimsy defence and a lack of consistent protection from the midfield and you’ve got a recipe for turmoil. It’s gotten to a point now where Mourinho himself seems unsure of what to do next. Even at Real Madrid where he caused so much conflict, he appeared to be at ease, as if he knew that what he was doing was ultimately the right decision.
But should there be worry? Not really. As mentioned, he isn’t the inexperienced Villas-Boas. Surely even Roman Abramovich knows that this merry-go-round of managers has to come to an end. If so, it’s fortunate, then, that he’s landed on Mourinho to oversee the next few seasons.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been some eyebrow-raising moments to Mourinho’s second spell as Chelsea manager. There’s the Mata story, as well as the similar treatment given to Kevin De Bruyne; David Luiz isn’t fancied at all, yet not to the extent where he’d be allowed to move on (though that may change next month); and Cesar Azpilicueta, initially overlooked, is seeing minutes in an unfamiliar left-back spot while Ashley Cole warms the bench.
The Chelsea attackers are good enough to turn around a game on their own. Fluidity and pace is an issue that can quite easily be overcome, such as reducing Frank Lampard to a bit-part role. But shoring up the defence, one of Mourinho’s most famed coaching skills, is the priority. A title-challenger or even winner can’t concede a combined six against Sunderland and Stoke, a set of results that were particularly uncommon for a Mourinho team.
Like most, Mourinho seems charmed by the skills of Eden Hazard. The Belgian was one who Mourinho name-checked at the start of the season to push on and establish himself as one of Europe’s biggest stars. He’s done that in flashes, and there may be hope based on the past few games that he’s now firmly on that path.
Importantly, the Belgian can play the way Mourinho wants. So too can Oscar, as well as Andre Schurrle, and you’d expect there to be a little more to the signing of Willian than the conspiracy theory involving Spurs.
Mourinho knows the problems that continue to hamper this Chelsea team from putting together a strong run of results and those fitting of a Mourinho team. It’s down to him to answer those problems. His history dictates that he’s more than good enough.