Talk of Chelsea ‘doing an Arsenal’ is gathering pace as the Blues continued their unbeaten run in swatting aside Liverpool on Saturday. Jose Mourinho is yet to taste defeat in the Premier League after eleven games and possesses a squad of such quality and depth that it is hard to see where his side can possibly stumble.
Having arguably already played three of their hardest fixtures in the league in the away ties at Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United, if any team is capable of emulating Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ of the 2003/04 season, it is Jose’s class of 2014/15.
Ending the campaign with a big fat zero in the ‘games lost’ column would undoubtedly be one of the Portuguese’s greatest ever achievements but is not going to be easy.
So can any side actually beat Chelsea this season? And if so, how?
Mourinho himself has consistently rebuffed the notion of an unbeaten campaign, and his stance remained steadfast in the press corner at Anfield:
“Unbeaten through the season is the impossible job, I think we will lose. In modern football, especially in the Premier League, I don’t believe in an unbeaten run. I know that the negative moment will arrive, the defeat will arrive, and we are prepared for that.”
This is merely Mourinho executing his mind games, of course, as he has often played down his side’s chances for ulterior purposes. He did so last season while Chelsea were very much involved in the title race, and although the Blues went on to fall behind Manchester City and Liverpool, one can imagine an expression of feigned surprise from the Portuguese if the London club had indeed lifted the trophy, as if to say that even he continues to be amazed by his ability to deliver success ‘against the odds’.
On the other hand, Mourinho knows better than to be hubristic in what is still an early stage in the campaign. As good as his team may be, they are human beings with their foibles, and they can be beaten.
Nevertheless, the 51 year-old’s tactical mastery has rendered any weaknesses the Blues may have insignificant, and unless a Premier League manager proves himself capable of out-thinking the Chelsea boss, they will more than likely avoid defeat for the remainder of the season.
So how does one out-think the Special One? The best way to do this is by beating him at his own game, namely by adopting an ultra-defensive method. It may not make for pretty viewing, and the Portuguese has had his fair share of critics who have deplored his brand of ‘anti-football’, but it can be extremely effective.
Mourinho is the master of this style of football. His Inter Milan side’s second leg victory over Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals in 2010 was a masterclass in achieving victory through ‘parking the bus’, as was the 2-0 defeat of Liverpool at Anfield last season that effectively ended the Reds’ title hopes.
But Jose does not enjoy it when the opposition uses the same tactics against his side. His hypocritical derision of West Ham’s “19th Century” style of play in a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge in January was essentially an admittance on his behalf that even he does not know how to score against a team so dead-set on not conceding.
Parking the proverbial bus therefore represents the best method to dash Chelsea’s dreams of an unbeaten season, not because the Blues are especially vulnerable to such a strategy, but because it has simply always been the most effective way to prevent the opposition from scoring, in any era of the game.
Triumphing over Mourinho in this manner is obviously predicated on actually scoring the first goal, which may in fact play into the hands of the ‘smaller’ Premier League teams, as Chelsea are far more open against sides they are expected to beat than against their fellow title contenders. In this regard, Brendan Rodgers will be ruing an opportunity lost as his Liverpool side hit first against the Blues on Saturday, before Mourinho’s men showed the Reds boss how it’s done by taking the lead and holding onto it until the final whistle.
If Chelsea are to be vanquished, the likes of Rodgers must learn from their mistakes and realise that the ugly, pragmatic yet highly efficacious bus-parking approach – made infamous by Mourinho himself – is key.
Failure to do so could see us marvelling at the exploits of the ‘New Invincibles’ come May.
Any questions? Follow me on Twitter @GruffuddOwen