Chelsea’s resounding 4-0 win over Manchester United on Sunday vindicated the club’s decision to sack United manager Jose Mourinho after 16 matches last season, revealing that his poor campaign with Chelsea may have been more indicative of a full decline rather than temporary blip.
“You’re not special anymore,” sang the Chelsea fans at Stamford Bridge, a reminder not only of Mourinho’s current poor run of form but, more tragically, of his once-magic aura that has been lost after a second successive season of coaching mediocrity. Mourinho’s Chelsea mustered only 11 points after nine games last season, with three wins, two draws and four defeats. His Manchester United side is not that much better this time around after the same number of games, with 14 points.
Until the 15/16 season, Mourinho averaged 2.35 points per game over his career in domestic league competition. Last year, that number was at 0.94, and he was sacked after 16 matches. After nine matches so far in charge of Manchester United this season, Mourinho’s domestic points per game are 1.56, an improvement from his last season as Chelsea, but long way off his earlier impressive average.
These minor improvements in point averages come after the world record signing of midfielder Paul Pogba in the summer and investments in new signings Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, as well taking on the wages of free transfer Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The CIES football observatory reports that Mourinho’s United is the most expensive side ever assembled when taking into account transfer fees and wages, at over €718m (over £600m).
Such large investment would be expected to correlate with a similarly sizeable rise in form, but that has not been the case. Newly-appointed Chelsea manager Antonio Conte spent nearly £120m this summer, but with only around £80m in net spend. Mourinho spent over £150m, without recouping too much money in outgoing transfers. Despite coming behind in investment, Conte’s side looked far superior and made Mourinho’s United look more ineffective than expensive.
Sunday’s match proved that Chelsea were right to appoint Conte over maintaining Mourinho on a tactical level, as the latter’s once-lauded set-ups have not adapted to more recent innovations in the game.
Chelsea’s 3-5-2 formation embraces modernity, with more flexible positions, attacking fullbacks (wingbacks, in Chelsea’s case), midfield control, and fluid passing, as well as countering the now-ubiquitous single striker systems. Mourinho’s preferred 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 set-ups seem to be showing their age, as such positional rigidity appears to limit his players creatively and noticeably squashes Paul Pogba’s potential influence. United’s squad does not appear tactically equipped to control a game defensively. As Sunday’s game showed, the Red Devils lack positional awareness, and as a result, they are highly susceptible to Conte’s fluid formation.
The Italian arrived at Stamford Bridge with recent history of success that perhaps makes him the successor Mourinho’s “Special One” moniker. Conte averaged 2.28 points per game as the manager of Juventus, winning Serie A in all three of his season in charge from 2011/12 to 2013/14. He then revitalised an Italian national team that had been knocked out of the group stages of the 2014 World Cup, as his steered his side to a Euro 2016 quarter final, losing to reigning World Champions Germany on penalties.
With Chelsea currently standing in fourth place and only one point off top spot, Conte looks set to expand on his increasingly impressive career. Mourinho is six points off, having fallen to seventh in the table. It remains to be seen if Mourinho’s side will continue to drop points, but this weekend’s fixture made clear that Chelsea made the correct choice in choosing Conte to steer the club forward.
The fans weren’t wrong when they told Mourinho he was no longer special, but they can be pleased that their new manager, while not necessarily the Special One, is more than a worthy successor.