Jose Mourinho is on the warpath – or he’d like you to think so.
After the most horrendous ‘tackle’ of the Premier League season thus far, Burnley forward Ashley Barnes’ shin-bending, high footed, potentially career-ending challenge on Nemanja Matic during a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, the Chelsea manager muscled his way onto yesterday’s Goals on Sunday, at the expense of scheduled guest James Beattie, to launch a verbal tirade on the Turf Moor striker, referees, the FA and Sky Sports.
It was an ungodly challenge that could have resulted in permanent damage and I’m shocked the FA have decided not to take retrospective action. Matic was spared by the sheer robustness of his 6 foot 5 frame and his reaction, exploding with angst to push the Burnley man to the ground, was more than understandable, despite resulting in a red card. Mourinho too has a right to complain; a Chelsea player was on the receiving end of a diabolical challenge that would be classed as assault if it happened during an alcohol-fuelled night out in London, yet his side were forced to finish the match with ten men.
It was one of the biggest talking points of the weekend in the Premier League, yet one can’t ignore the manner in which Mourinho’s used it, to quite an unprecedented degree – his ad hoc rant lasting around 27 minutes – to deflect attention from a result that’s let Manchester City back into the title race.
That should be what tabloid column inches are devoted to this week. After all, Chelsea have spent nearly £120million on predominantly attacking talent during the last two transfer windows, including their January swoop of Juan Cuadrado, yet they’re still plagued by the same old problems that collapsed their title bid last season.
Once again, it’s a case of the Mourinho philosophy proving too cautious against the Premier League’s lesser clubs, who are more than prepared to play the Portuguese at his own bus-parking game. Just as shock defeats to Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and Sunderland saw the Blues fall short last year, three overtly physical, relegation-threatened sides committing eleven men behind the ball and riding their luck on the counter-attack, they’ve now dropped points to bottom-half outfits Sunderland, Newcastle and Burnley.
Chelsea will claim they were firmly in control on Saturday prior to Matic’s sending off, scoring after 14 minutes and ensuring 55% possession. Yet Diego Costa was nowhere to be seen for the whole 90 minutes, Juan Cuadrado had limited impact on the right-hand side and the Blues’ attacking threat waned as the second half dragged on. They finished the match with the same amount of shots on target as Burnley whilst Branislav Ivanovic, the in-form right-back that bagged Chelsea’s first, ended up with the most attempts on goal of any Blue – an uninspiring three.
With eleven men, the Blues probably would have held on. After all, Matic’s marking assignment for the afternoon was Ben Mee, who netted the late equaliser from a corner. But Premier League champions in waiting have no divine right to victory from a 1-0 lead over a club in the relegation zone; in my opinion, that’s a complacent scoreline to enter the final 20 minutes on your home turf with and cruel circumstance, a malicious twist of fate, eventually caught up with them.
Football is a subjective sport, officiated by humans with the impossible task of ruling every decision correctly, so Chelsea can’t expect to win the Premier League title with every decision going their way for the entire campaign. Part of the challenge in football, in my opinion, is having the quality and attitude to overcome the inevitable bad calls. Failing to realise that is something I’ve dubbed ‘the Neil Warnock effect’.
Mourinho knows this as well as anyone, and to suggest there’s an imbalance of fortunes surrounding Chelsea and referees is a complete fallacy. Were Chelsea not spared from defeat to West Brom via a Ramires dive last season? Did Mourinho not go unpunished for leaving his box and running down the entire pitch to ‘give instructions’ to his players against PSG? It’s swings and roundabouts, and always has been.
Once again however, we’re not talking about Saturday’s result, and this is hardly the first time Mourinho’s used media hyperbole to smokescreen a tepid performance. After drawing to Southampton in December, the attention shifted onto Cesc Fabregas’ dive and subsequently the notion of a referees’ ‘conspiracy’. Following a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford, Mourinho lamented Ivanovic’s late red card, and after the defeat to Newcastle, the Portuguese alleged the Magpies’ ball-boys had participated in orchestrated time-wasting.
I’m not suggesting the Barnes challenge should be completely forgotten, but Mourinho’s rant yesterday ensured it was the only talking point to emerge from the game. Nothing about the tallest defense in the league conceding from a corner, nothing about Cesc Fabregas, Juan Cuadrado, Oscar, Eden Hazard or Diego Costa – five players that individually cost more than Burnley’s entire squad – failing to score against an 18th-place, newly promoted side with the second-worst goals conceded record in the top flight.
There was obviously some honesty in the aggrieved tone of Mourinho’s voice on Sunday morning – he will now lose his most important midfielder for the weekend’s Capital One Cup final – but the manner in which it’s completely eradicated discussions over a poor result is simply too beneficial to take fully at face value. Mourinho, the master of the mind-games, the media and misdirection, strikes again.