Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea are still a work in progress. It’s almost quite frightening actually.
This time last year – give or take a few months – Chelsea were doing very well to get to a Champions League semi-final, but struggling against the Premier League’s more ‘mundane’ sides. The ‘little horse’ trotted in behind the bigger horses to finish in a reasonable third place. Not bad for Mourinho’s first season back but definitely more to come. A good each way bet.
Now Chelsea are the Champions, and lost four games all season in all competitions. They’ve made it to the top, but there’s still improvement to be made.
I don’t say that to criticise Chelsea. They won the title at a canter and that’s a huge achievement. They were also unlucky in the Champions League, they went out in the round of 16, but they didn’t lose to PSG – they drew twice.
The improvement that they can still make is just the improvement that comes with another year. Football doesn’t just stop, and Mourinho’s mentality must be something close to ‘why win the league if you’re not going to retain it?’ And Chelsea look to be continuing the charge from their position already out in front.
The pace just behind them will get hotter this summer, however. Manchester United are expected to spend big, Arsenal are only a few players short of a genuine challenge and if Manchester City can add some energy to their jaded squad they will definitely be dangerous – beware of the wounded animal.
So Chelsea will probably need to improve a bit. But Mourinho looks to have taken on the ‘Tony Pulis method’ of club improvement. I don’t think he’ll take the tracksuit and baseball cap look on anytime soon, however.
The Pulis method is fairly simple and very effective. Take the club, make its defence solid and take it from there.
The idea is that teaching a group of young men to defend is easier than teaching them to attack. That sounds like the wrong way round, but it’s not. Attacking is what everyone wants to do naturally – most players like to look for a forward pass – and defending is about discipline.
But attacking is subjective, it takes guile and skill and it takes vision and an appreciation of beauty. Defending takes great discipline, but you can instil that into a player more easily than you can instil attacking flair.
Pulis’s first assignment at any club is to make the defence disciplined and working as one unit.
That’s the stage Mourinho has reached with Chelsea. They were the meanest defence in the league this season, but they looked like it too. It was rare that the defence was dragged out of position, and even rarer that there was no one covering.
Since he’s come back to Stamford Bridge, the Portuguese manager has shipped out players like Juan Mata and Kevin De Bruyne, players who don’t give their all for the team in a defensive sense. Instead, players like Willian and Oscar start, players who will track back and help the team.
All that’s left for Chelsea to do is make their attack as potent as their defence. If they can achieve that, the dream of winning everything on fronts both European and domestic will come closer to fruition.
That boils football down to the simple sport that it is, really. Stop the opposition from scoring. Score yourself.
Chelsea have the first bit down to a tee. Now what’s left is the flair up front. They have the players who are going to give the team effort and work-rate, but they need some flair now. Step up Falcao, Griezmann or other the attackers Chelsea have been linked with this summer.
Mourinho might not be interested in these players, but it does give a flavour of the direction Chelsea are going in. Add flair to what they already have and Chelsea will be an even bigger force to be reckoned with next time around. Both in Europe and in the Premier League.
It seems Chelsea are perfecting Tony Pulis’s tried and tested methods.