Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is often characterised as a winner, a pragmatist, a man who stretches the boundaries of what’s acceptable in his attempts to achieve victory. And while the Portuguese clearly loves winning, he hates losing more.
This is because when a Mourinho team loses, it means someone has made a mistake. And that someone is not Jose Mourinho. The Chelsea manager was vehement in his criticism of Eden Hazard after the forward’s lapses in concentration against Atletico Madrid that he saw as directly leading to two goals.
While Hazard was clearly Chelsea’s weakest player defensively, he was also their strongest player offensively. He was the one man who consistently looked likely to create against Madrid – a pattern that has held over the entire season. The relationship between manager and player is at the very least frosty, and it’s not inconceivable that Mourinho would again seek to sell his team’s Player of the Year. So keen is Mourinho to limit mistakes that one must worry what would be left in the way of creativity if he is successful in his pursuit.
Mata was the first to go. The pre-season talk playing with a greater flair was not reflected in team selection. The Spaniard was deemed too lazy to play for Mourinho and shipped off to Old Trafford. Chelsea had sold something special but had recouped £37m. It was a good piece of business for a fringe player but a worrying sign of things to come.
David Luiz was soon found not to be trusted at centre-back. Moments of brilliance were not enough to distract from his propensity for the error. The Brazilian moonlighted in central midfield to some success, but his lack of positional discipline was constant source of frustration for Mourinho – his runs too instinctive, just too ill-considered.
It’s not surprising that Chelsea would be willing to accept a £40m plus bid for David Luiz – this would be hard offer to turn down for any 27-year-old defender, never mind one that couldn’t get into the first-team. But it does add to an emerging trend at Stamford Bridge that should be a source of concern for Chelsea’s fans.
Chelsea’s failings last season mainly came against supposed ‘lesser’ opposition – teams that defended deep and were willing to accept a draw. Breaking down a team which plays with 10 men behind the ball is difficult for any team – even that great Spain side only scored more than one goal in two games during the course of their World Cup win in 2010 – but this becomes even harder when the team’s primary focus is on not making mistakes
Mourinho’s increasing obsession with reducing error is damaging to Chelsea’s chances of winning another league title. The Premier League is quite neatly divided into those that are trying to win and those who are just trying to survive. The problem for Mourinho is that this latter category greatly outnumber the former. Chelsea won 16 points out of 18 against the other teams that qualified for the Champions League but dropped points at home to Sunderland, West Ham and West Brom.
It’s against such sides that Luiz is his most useful. When faced with a deep defence, having a player at the base of your team with the passing range of Luiz is a boon. David Luiz is capable of doing the special that is required to breach stubborn defences, as is Juan Mata. Mourinho decision to sell both within one year at Stamford Bridge must be cause for concern.