Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Mourinho tweaks his Chelsea

Jose Mourinho is like marmite, people either love him or hate him. Few people would however doubt his abilities as a coach and tactician. His use of substitutions for instance is often unparallelled.

There have however been many questions asked since his return to Chelsea with regard to the way his team have ben playing. Chelsea have been leaking goals, their strikers have not been scoring and the absences of Juan Mata have been seen by many as mind boggling.

Matters appeared to reach a nadir after Chelsea inexplicably lost to at Stoke on Dec 7th, a game they had appeared in complete control of during the first half before allowing Stephen Ireland to equalise just before the break.

Mourinho's post match interview was a classic, full of high drama stating his side were 'in trouble'.

He followed this up after Chelsea's cup loss to Sunderland with snippets such as 'I don't want to, to play more counterattacking, but I'm giving it serious thought'. 'If I want to win 1-0 I think I can as it one of the easiest things in football'.

No should be fooled by the 'I don't want to', this was Mourinho signalling enough is enough and it's time to start getting results, he's simply not interested in playing like Barcelona.

Since losing to Sunderland, Chelsea's results have read 0-0 (Arsenal), 1-0 (Swansea), 2-1 (Liverpool), 3-0 (Southampton), 2-0 (Derby) and 2-0 (Hull). 5 wins and a draw at the Emirates and only one goal conceded. Much more Jose like.

Now it may be premature writing this before playing ManU but whatever Mourinho has subtely changed, it has so far worked in terms of the goals conceded column. Chelsea are still playing the same 4-2-3-1 system but the players' duties and set up has clearly changed.

One interesting point is that other than the fairly dire goalless draw with Arsenal, Frank Lampard has been absent from the starting line up for all the clean sheets but started against Liverpool when Chelsea conceded.

Lampard has been the midfield dynamo behind much of Chelsea's success for many years and Mourinho's previous 4-3-3 system at Chelsea suited his late arrivals in the box wonderfully. As a holding midfielder however he is found lacking (many Liverpool watchers are advocating the same issue with Steven Gerrard) and obviously his legs are not what they were.

I'm personally still of the opinion that David Luiz is a central defender and not a midfielder but Mourinho is experimenting with this in the same way that Rafa Benitez did last season around the same time of the year.

The re-signing of Nemanja Matic and the departure of Kevin De Bruyne makes much sense from Mourinho's point of view. Chelsea desperately need a quality holding player to make this system work and the late purchase of Willian left Chelsea with at least one too many attacking midfielders.

The absurd lack of long term thinking from Chelsea in terms of valuing Matic at 3M as a make weight in the David Luiz transfer three years ago is another discussion but such are the problems when you see coaches as disposal items.

Chelsea played out a dire 0-0 draw with United early this season - Mourinho possibly not grasping how poor United were at that stage and that a win was there for the taking - and it will be interesting to see how Mourinho approaches Sunday's game.

A Chelsea win would effectively kill off any hopes of a concerted United revival given the favourable fixtures the other top sides have this weekend. Regardless, given the relative form and line ups, Mourinho should be setting his team up to win.

It may be next season  - and it may be the cause of fresh tension between Mourinho and Abramovich - before 'Mourinho's Chelsea' re-emerges but the recent goals against column would indicate a fresh level of pragmatism at the Bridge - No Nonsense.