When Jose Mourinho was rehired by Chelsea’s Russian owner Roman Abramovich this summer fans of the blues (and the British media) rejoiced. The self acclaimed “Special One” was a resounding success during his first spell at Stamford Bridge from 2004 to 2007, winning two Premier League titles, one League Cup and one F.A Cup. However his second tenure has got off to a rocky opening, resulting in Chelsea’s worst Premier League start in the Abramovich era which is now in its tenth season. Factor in Wednesday’s home defeat to Basel in the Champions League and things do not currently look pretty in West London. While there is clearly a long way to go this season and plenty of time for Mourinho to turn things around lets take the time to look at why the blues haven’t yet made it out of second gear.
Perhaps the strangest decisions Mourinho has made so far concern his handling of Chelsea’s striker dilemma. Going into this campaign the position was a question mark with Demba Ba, Fernando Torres and Romelu Lukaku compromising Jose’s options up top. Ba performed adequately if not spectacularly upon his arrival from Newcastle last January, Torres was still struggling to recapture the form that persuaded Abramovich to part with a British transfer record £50 million to sign him while Lukaku had just come off of a promising season long loan spell with West Brom, scoring 17 league goals. Yet while Torres and Ba were retained for this season Lukaku was loaned out again, this time to Everton, and aging Cameroonian Samuel Eto’o was signed to supplement the remaining attacking options. Jettisoning Lukaku was a strange move after he showed he’s capable of excelling in the Premiership last season, particularly when you compare his statistics and attributes to the other strikers employed by Chelsea. Mourinho’s pursuit of Wayne Rooney was well documented and because that deal failed to materialize you get the impression that Eto’o’s signing was little more than a panic buy. Chelsea’s dearth of striking options was probably best demonstrated when none of the above were selected to lead the line when they visited Manchester United in the seasons second week, winger Andre Shurrle preferred instead.
Another peculiar action of Mourinho’s has been his handling, or mishandling, of ace play maker Juan Mata. Mata is good enough to command a regular starting spot in Spain’s enviously talented midfield, featuring the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Silva. So why not Chelsea’s? Rumour has it that Mourinho is not impressed with Mata’s defensive work rate and thus prefers Eden Hazard and the Brazilian Oscar. However that comes across as a weak excuse especially when you consider the positive impact Mata has had in his two seasons at Stamford Bridge. He was voted the clubs player of the season last year and when I saw him play at Upton Park against West Ham he certainly passed the eye test. The likes of Hazard, Oscar and the evergreen Frank Lampard are all fine players but most would agree that they are not yet in Mata’s class. I’d even go so far as to say Mata would get in any eleven in world football.
One positive for Mourinho is that defensively there has been little that would trouble him so far. Gary Cahill has impressed alongside whomever he has partnered at centre back, be it John Terry or David Luiz, and Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic have remained pillars of stability at full back. Petr Cech is still a world class keeper, so conceding goals shouldn’t be the blues problem this season. However they do lack a holding midfielder of any stature, something Mourinho was able to enjoy during his first spell with the club when both Claude Makelele and Michael Essien (pre-knee trouble) filled that roll. John Obi Mikel is a long way from the calibre of those two players, so that could be an area Jose looks to upgrade in the January transfer window.
One of the oldest sayings in football and life in general is “never go back”. Going back didn’t work for Kevin Keegan. Nor did things pan out for Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool. Dirty Den’s second stint in Eastenders wasn’t quite the same as his first. Katie Price’s reappearance on ‘I’m A Celebrity’ was never going to be as successful as her first, when she met the legendary Peter Andre. Gary Barlow and Take That may be the exception to the rule, but you see where I’m going with this. In his introductory press conference Mourinho declared himself “the happy one”. Unfortunately his second term with Chelsea has contained little moments of joy thus far.