By Liam Twomey
Jose Mourinho always conquers in his second season. Perhaps the most striking trend of all in an astonishing managerial record, it has come to define him. At Porto and Inter he defeated all challengers at home and in Europe. At Chelsea and Real Madrid he won league titles that bolstered his reputation as a serial winner.
Last term it was also the shield used to deflect much of the sharp criticism usually unleashed at the realisation of a rare trophyless campaign in the Roman Abramovich era at Stamford Bridge.
But this season Mourinho’s own past helps contribute to the overriding sense that he is out of excuses. He knows this better than anyone. There has been no management of expectations or talk of little horses. Instead, the Special One’s ruthlessness has reached new levels as he strives to make Chelsea champions of England for the first time in four years.
The consequences of this approach will be evident all around Goodison Park and beyond when Chelsea take on Everton on Saturday.
For starters, two talented strikers at opposite ends of their careers now wear a different shade of blue, and will likely both take to the field against Mourinho’s men with significant points to prove.
Samuel Eto’o may no longer feel the need to call his former manager a "fool" and "puppet" in the press but he still harbours a lingering bitterness over how he was cast out of Stamford Bridge last summer. "I thought I had a lot to offer [Chelsea] but for whatever reason it didn’t work out," the Cameroonian admitted at his Everton unveiling this week.
Romelu Lukaku has never been so openly confrontational, but Mourinho’s accusations that he lacked the mental fortitude to fight for his place at Chelsea will sting a formidably gifted 21-year-old who was allowed just four starting appearances in three years under contract with his boyhood club.
Mourinho considered both expendable, one too young and one – infamously – too old to be the reliable main goalscorer in his title charge. In their stead he recruited Diego Costa, a man in his physical prime, at first glance ideally suited to the rigours of Premier League football and emerging from a season in which he exploded onto the European stage.
The greatest contempt has been shown for the faded skills of Fernando Torres, shipped out to AC Milan for the final two years of his contract on a glorified free transfer. It is a fitting conclusion to a bizarre and humiliating personal journey for the Spaniard who once cost £50 million.
Costa’s minor muscular injury means 36-year-old Didier Drogba is now Chelsea’s only fully fit striker for the trip to Goodison Park, and the Blues hierarchy have just three days to find a capable signing and ensure they meet Mourinho’s stated striking quota of three - Loic Remy a potential arrival to plug that gap.
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This is also now far more identifiably a Mourinho team, allying the pace and creativity Abramovich demands with a mechanical tactical efficiency and a familiar, brutalising power. Out have gone gifted free spirits such as Juan Mata and David Luiz, in have come the manager's chosen men.
The revolution has claimed numerous casualties, among them many of Mourinho’s old favourites. Of the ageing club legends who first began to craft the story of the Abramovich era in the Portuguese’s first spell at Stamford Bridge, only captain John Terry remains a regular starter.
Drogba has returned but enjoys severely reduced status in the twilight of his career. Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole are gone, having become regarded as expendable by the manager almost as soon as they found themselves supplanted by younger men. Petr Cech has now suffered the same fate, and is surely wondering whether to endure a purgatorial existence on the bench behind the nerveless and brilliant Thibaut Courtois or seek out pastures new.
When asked whether he had explained his decision to Cech, Mourinho replied: "I don't have to speak to players about decisions. For me, it's the club, the team and then the players. So I want the players to see that everything I do is thinking about the team. I don't like to be always justifying my decisions to the players."
Such an approach may seem harsh on Chelsea's greatest ever goalkeeper, but favouritism has no place in Mourinho's pursuit of glory. He always conquers in his second season. The alternative does not bear thinking about.
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