Jose Mourinho’s second coming at Chelsea, while received with great enthusiasm and fanfare by the club’s supporters on one hand, was met with a certain degree of skepticism by some football experts and opposition fans nevertheless.
There’s always something strange about bumping into an ex. Sometimes it can be satisfying — perhaps they’re looking a bit shabby, or have obviously fallen on hard times. Other times the reverse is true….
Now, two months in-charge into his second tenure at the club that began a love-affair that continues to this day, Chelsea are succeeding in adapting to Jose Mourinho’s ideology and style of play and are doing well to dispel those doubts. It certainly hasn’t been easy sailing by any stretch of imagination, but it is in a way good that the hiccups have come this early, which if papered over might have come to haunt Chelsea as the season progressed. It has been all but a characteristic feature in last two or three seasons when the club has enjoyed an explosive start, only to wither away as sterner tests produced themselves.
Although it will be too early to make predictions for the end of season scenarios, these early days have provided a window on what can be expected of this Chelsea team, nevertheless. In his time so far, Mourinho has given Stamford Bridge new heroes to cheer, while also managing to resurrect a few old ones. The fans are behind the team again, and you can hear them singing their manager’s name instead of hurling abuses, something which became an almost common occurrence last season. These are trying but exciting times ahead for Chelsea with some new and some old heroes leading the charge, alongside Jose Mourinho’s brawny machinations and a few beautiful eggs thrown in for good measure.
And so as the international break kicks in, yet again, here are a few early season impressions:
The name is Terry, John Terry
Mourinho’s return to the shores of South West London has not affected many players more than it has affected John Terry. Chelsea’s beleaguered captain has seen stature once again, and although the aura he held over the Bridge faithful was never likely to diminish, he has proven himself capable of leading form the front once again. Slotting into the first team with calm and poise, it is hard to imagine that this is the same John Terry who a couple of seasons ago famously slipped allowing van Persie to settle a pulsating Chelsea-Arsenal derby, or the same one who was maligned no end after his stupid red card against Barcelona or his exchanges with Anton Ferdinand. Last season too, the former England captain frustratingly remained on sidelines for extended periods after suffering injuries.
With pace deserting him and his commanding presence in the box declining more than ever, the usual transfer rumors were surfacing, claiming that Terry was seeking an easy way out. But in yet another defiant response to his critics, Chelsea’s captain has transformed his fortunes and is leading the charge for his club. In the two games he has sat out, those against Bayern and FC Basel, Chelsea have ended up losing while with him in the side, they have kept five clean sheets and haven’t conceded more than a goal in a game. At the other end of the spectrum, Frank Lampard and Petr Cech have performed consistently well too; Chelsea’s old guard has remained strong and reliable as ever.
The Boys from Samba-land
Having a bit of old-school Brazilian flair in your team never possibly harms the prospects and it certainly isn’t doing so for Chelsea. John Terry might be enjoying his changing fortunes, but nobody’s star is rising as great as that of Oscar’s. The diminutive Brazilian number 10 has been nothing short of a revelation since the turn of the season and Mourinho’s confidence is doing him a world of good. He has started almost every game and is dictating the proceedings when he is on the pitch, stacking up an impressive tally of goals and assists.
His compatriot and friend Ramires, who is known to run his socks off every single game he plays, has also been among the best performers; closing down the opposition and tackling at every opportunity that might come his way. With the addition of Willian, who announced his arrival with a quite spectacular goal against Norwich, the Brazilian contingent has only increased.
Jose Mourinho has demonstrated his desire to begin with a clean slate and nobody has been assured of a starting berth unlike 2004-07, but if anybody looks likely to get one, it is the duo of Oscar and Rambo.
Getting the Attitude and Substitutions right
If there was one man responsible for instilling the never-say-die spirit in the squad that eventually played a pivotal role in Chelsea lifting the Champions League in 2012, against all odds, it was Jose Mourinho. Only a few remnants of that once great machine remain standing today but if the recent performances are anything to go by, Jose is gradually building up that mentality again. Going a goal down in hostile circumstances, opposition making a comeback on the back of a boisterous crowd or even going a man down is no longer an excuse for putting your hands up. Those shoulders no longer than slacken off when the opponent comes knocking. Instead the adverse circumstances seem to drive the players to raise their game an extra notch. The good old ‘us against the world’ is also making its way back, although very subtly, somewhere there.
Likewise, tactics and substitutions from Mourinho have been spot on as well. It would be fair to say that the best XI hasn’t been figured out yet, but Chelsea have been exploiting a good mix of strategies and lineups. The players too have been adapting well, and the lack of penchant to sticking to one philosophy has seen Chelsea adapt to different and difficult situations well.
Fernando Torres might come good after all!
To the list of questions that have always eluded and intrigued mankind, the most recent addition has been ‘Whether Fernando Torres will be able to return to the form of his time at Liverpool?’ Over the course of two and a half seasons, Chelsea supporters pinned hopes on the Spaniard like none other. Torres has responded at times too, but more often than not it has all ended with the Blues faithful heaving a collective sigh and a resigned ‘Oh well’.
However, it is not for nothing that Mourinho is accredited as one of the finest ‘man-managers’ in the game. Torres enjoyed his best run at the Bridge last season and Chelsea fans could not be blamed for pinning their hopes on the Portuguese to take his Iberian protégé back to the summit. Evidence so far suggests that two and a half years’ worth of patience might not have been for nothing. Mourinho is known for his inclination towards powerfully built strikers who can hold up play as well as they finish, and with Eto’o’s arrival and the rather inexplicable loan departure of Romelu Lukaku, it seemed that Torres might be playing a somewhat peripheral role.
Quite to the contrary, Chelsea have looked an entirely different beast with him in the squad. A bit of an unnecessary aggression and a fine dose of theatrics from Jan Vertonghen earned him a red card against Tottenham, but in a breathtaking second half against Tottenham, he demonstrated his will to take this game by the scruff of its neck once again. Mourinho’s encouragements seem to be working, and even though he hasn’t in the league yet, this might just be the season he came good for Chelsea at last.
Staying cautious won’t harm, though!
Even though all markers point to a squad where players are improving individually as well as a collective; staying on the guard couldn’t possibly harm Chelsea’s prospects. If Chelsea’s much overstated antithesis, history, is anything to go by, the time between late October and end of November has proven to be the graveyard of the club’s Premier League ambitions for the last three seasons. Jose’s biggest test so far would perhaps lie in steering Chelsea clear from these dreaded months and emerging unscathed.
Regardless, there remains good reason for cautious optimism under Mourinho’s charge, but the setbacks suffered early in the season have demonstrated that this is still a work in progress, albeit one that is headed in the right direction. If not for Liverpool and Arsenal’s remarkable run of form, Chelsea would still be sitting top of the Premier League table and in there lies the hope that there is much to come from this unlikely group comprising of an edgy Russian, a cranky but adorable Portuguese, some old heroes and beautiful young eggs.