By Duncan Castles
“I've never worked so hard as I'm doing now. Never. I had different situations at the other clubs, but here I work hard every day.” - Jose Mourinho, September 2013.
If there was one person who thought Chelsea possessed the Premier League's strongest group of footballers at the end of this transfer window past his name was Roman Abramovich. When Jose Mourinho talks about working harder than he's ever done the degree of effort is Stakhanovite.
Returning to Stamford Bridge was always going to require special application of his coaching talents. Not because the squad was poor, but because it was imbalanced. Before accepting the position, Mourinho regarded the players already at Chelsea, parked abroad, or, like Andre Schurrle, already lined up for purchase, as able. The issue was that they'd been recruited for a different model of football.
|OUT IN THE COLD
|JUAN MATA'S 2012-13 CAMPAIGN
KEY PASSES PER GAME
AVERAGE PASSES PER GAME
|DAVID LUIZ'S 2012-13 CAMPAIGN
AVERAGE PASSES PER GAME
With coaching appointments scattered like confetti, it is no coincidence that Chelsea has finished second, sixth and a final-day third in their last three Premier League campaigns. For three years players who'd grown to regard their positions as far more permanent than their managers' have never once threatened to win the title.
Accepting Abramovich's decision to adhere to UEFA's Financial Fair Play regulations, Mourinho drew up a plan to rebalance the squad to deliver a form of football that would satisfy the owner. Chelsea's game would be possession-based, defending high up the park, pressing opponents into quickly conceded transitions. Technical, fast and effective.
The Portuguese identified three key areas to reinforce. Instead of juggling the varied shortcomings of John Terry, Gary Cahill, David Luiz and Branislav Ivanovic, he wanted an unquestioned starting centre back. A player with pace, strength in the tackle and an ability to begin attacks. One who wouldn't forget his marking duties, produce at least one random error a game, or allow opponents to run unheeded off his shoulder.
The midfield also lacked a figure who could balance defence and attack. Mourinho wanted a player who could shield the back four, recover possession and knew the correct moment to release the ball forward. Chelsea's other central problem was so obvious only a blind emperor couldn't see it. Fernando Torres had to be replaced by a striker who could be relied on to score goals himself and create for his team-mates.
As money was limited, and Chelsea were overloaded with attacking midfielders, Mourinho proposed the pragmatic strategy of cashing on David Luiz and Juan Mata. Torres' ludicrously high salary was to be moved on to anyone prepared to bear it – a transfer fee would be a bonus.
|“Mata, Torres and Azpilicueta, according to some close observers, are 'being treated like lepers' by Mourinho, who is supposedly punishing them for their close relationship with predecessor Rafa Benitez”
In better circumstances, Mourinho would have retained both David Luiz and Mata. The Brazil international's attributes are obvious and in many ways suited to the coach's methods. Yet a propensity for errors and wild departures from the tactical plan left him unsuited to a starter's role in either defence or midfield so the idea was to sell.
The reasons behind Mata's demotion have been laid clear over the past week. Mourinho prefers Oscar as his main creative force because the Brazilian has a superior all-round game. Mata tends to play across the park, struggles to complete 90 minutes and is defensively weak.
“Juan has to learn how to play in the way I want to play,” explained Mourinho. “He has to be more consistent and participate more when the team lose the ball. It is not his fault, it is just a consequence of the way he has played in the last years. Since he arrived at Chelsea, Chelsea have played very defensive football and with a low block all the time. The team was playing with two lines of four and playing counter attack football. Juan has fantastic quality and is very intelligent in the way he uses the ball. Now the situation is completely different.”
|8/1||Juan Mata is 8/1 with bet365 to open the scoring against Tottenham
Not only was Mata still at Stamford Bridge, he faced more competition for a place. Instead of adding a reliable central defender, midfielder and forward, Mourinho ended up loaning out Romelu Lukaku and Victor Moses to make room for the two arrivals from Anzhi.
Mata, Torres and Cesar Azpilicueta have started three Premier and Champions League fixtures between them, prompting talk of an anti-Spanish selection rule. According to some close observers the trio are “being treated like lepers” by Mourinho who is supposedly punishing them for their close relationship to predecessor Rafa Benitez. If the theory is clearly laughable, it does not aid an already difficult job.
The hard work Mourinho refers to is the training ground effort required to educate a cadre of younger players brought in on fees, salaries and reputations grander than their tactical intelligence. Infuriatingly unnecessary mistakes have been generated a failure to follow instruction. Too many individuals are struggling with basic phase of play, needlessly ceding possession by forcing the ball forward at the wrong moment. A failure to make tackles or harry the opposition as a unit have magnified the problem.
None of this irrecoverable, but as Mourinho once reminded his audience at a previous employer “I'm a coach, I'm not Harry Potter”. Even the very best require the support of those around them to deliver everything.
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