Much has been made of Chelsea’s success this season. Eleven points clear, they look set to record one of the most comfortable titles in Premier League history. More than that, the Blues have topped the table all season, and have never really looked like relinquishing the stronghold they have had on that position. Yet, there are still question marks over whether or not this Chelsea team are ‘great’ champions. They are effective, ruthless and efficient, no doubt; but for one reason or another, Jose Mourinho’s side have not endeared themselves to the footballing world.
As Chelsea celebrated a 0-0 draw away at Arsenal as if they had just lifted the Champions League, a chorus of “Boring, boring Chelsea,” rang around the Emirates. It is a chant which has been heard at a few grounds both this season and last, and more recently sung ironically by Chelsea fans themselves. At the heart of this discussion there lies two questions; the first, are Chelsea boring to watch? The second, which is only applicable should one find the answer to the first question to be yes, is does Jose Mourinho care?
It would seem every style of play is subject to scrutiny. The silky tiki-taka of Spain and Barcelona was seen as the pinnacle of the game when Spain lifted the World Cup in 2010, yet when they won Euro 2012, in even more emphatic style, accusations of being boring were suddenly thrown their way. The more direct, fast-paced approach of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich over the last five years subsequently became the flavor of the month, showing the fickleness of those in the game. Andres Iniesta said in 2012, “Football’s so great because not everyone likes the same thing, we don’t have to all agree on everything.”
There is probably some truth in what the Spaniard says, but there are certain ingredients which do tend to make for a more exciting spectacle. When assessing the relative ‘excitingness’ of a team, which seems a near enough impossible task from the outset, one of the first criteria people will look to is goals scored. Certainly, in this regard, Chelsea do not fare well. Their 70 goals this term is somewhat dwarfed by the 102 goals scored by last season’s champions Manchester City, or even runners-up Liverpool, who scored 101 goals. Chelsea themselves hold the record for the most goals in a Premier League season, scoring 103 times on their way to the title under Carlo Ancelotti in 2010.
Mourinho’s men fall considerably below the Premier League average of 92. Likewise, Chelsea’s total number of shots on goal and shots per game tallies are lower than that of any other Premier League title winning side since the competition’s inception. In this respect, criticisms levelled towards Chelsea for a lack of attacking intent seem to have some grounding. Whilst the aforementioned statistics are rather simplistic, it is difficult to employ any other genuine barometer of excitement. Some are equally enthralled by excellent defending, and will marvel at a well-read interception by John Terry as much as any 30-yard screamer.
As important perhaps, as Chelsea’s play on the ball, is their work off it. Mourinho has had accusations of playing ‘anti-football’ thrown his way during his spells in England, Italy and Spain. Certainly this seasons Chelsea squad are no stranger to the occasional use of football’s dark arts; back in November Gary Cahill spoke of Chelsea’s “game management”, a generous rebranding if ever there was one. Epitomized by Diego Costa, who played a similar brand of football under Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid, Chelsea have more yellow cards for diving than any other team in the Premier League.
Now, should one accept that Chelsea’s style of play is not the most beautiful way in which the beautiful game can be played, then they can come to our second question; does Mourinho care? Your instinctive response is likely to be simple, no. Mourinho has enjoyed unrelenting success wherever the game has taken him, with 20 trophies becoming 22 this season. His style of play has always been pragmatic, adaptable and effective. Yet there is still reason to believe that Jose is not wholly satisfied with the manner in which he has won things. If there is one manager who has managed to get under Mourinho’s skin like no other, it is Pep Guardiola, and to realise why, we must look back nearly 20 years.
In 1996, Mourinho joined the backroom staff at Barcelona. The same year, he told Mundo Deportivo, “With the ball, Guardiola is incredible, one of the best in the world,” later adding, “I’m an admirer of Cruyff”. All the early signs seem to suggest Mourinho admired a free flowing, passing game that was easy on the eye. Yet whilst Guardiola went on to emulate his playing style in management, the same philosophy Mourinho admired, he became an image of its most prevalent and effective opposition. In 2008, he wanted the Barcelona job. Eleven years after he had declared, “Today, tomorrow, and forever, with Barcelona in my heart,” he was turned down after his interview with club, who instead opted with Guardiola.
All of this mounts a decent case that Mourinho is a man playing a style of football he never loved, as he was rejected from his dream job at the club he truly loved. It is not then, as preposterous a question as it first seems. Yet, the answer, most assuredly, is no. Guardiola perfected the style of play set in motion by Johan Cruyff at Barcelona, there was no way Mourinho could out-Barca Barca. Instead, Mourinho has become a dichotomy to all that was Barca-centric. Unmoved by the pure aesthetic of the game, Mourinho’s teams became experts in winning without the ball, with consistent results capitalising on opposition errors whilst remaining defensively astute.
It is not true that Mourinho and Chelsea are “boring” or that they are ‘anti-football’, yet it is true that they can be boring and can display anti-football. Mourinho is a man without ideals, without principles, and without any specific ideology. He sets his teams up to get the result in which they need, nothing more, nothing less. Sometimes this will entail exciting, expansive football displaying skill, flair and ambition. Other times, he will happily sit ten men behind the ball, put Kurt Zouma in midfield and tell Eden Hazard his foremost concern should be monitoring any overlaps by an opposition full-back. The Mourinho way. The Lebanovsky way. The Bilardo way. To win at all costs. That is all.
Are Chelsea finally going to see the best of Alvaro Morata?
The Spanish international has been inconsistent since his £60 million move.
When Antonio Conte sealed the signing of Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid in the summer, many Chelsea fans lauded him as one of the signings of the window.
He was an instant hit at Stamford Bridge following his £60 million arrival, scoring on his debut off the bench in a 3-2 loss against Burnley on the opening day.
Morata has been most commonly used as an impact sub especially at Madrid, but at Chelsea, he was quickly given the responsibility of spearheading the Blues’ attack.
He repaid the faith Conte showed in him early, notching a hat trick away at Stoke in mid-September.
There was early talk of him being involved in a four-way battle for the golden boot alongside Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku and Gabriel Jesus.
Since then, it hasn’t worked out as well for Morata at Chelsea.
He went on a scoring drought soon after, although he did score a crucial winner against title rivals Manchester United in November.
He still received criticism, however, culminating in a poor performance against Arsenal in the Carabao Cup, where he missed several guilt edge chances to give Chelsea the advantage.
He then played 40 minutes in the FA Cup against Norwich, managing to receive two yellow cards in a matter of seconds, first for diving, and then for dissent.
The cold weather has been blamed for his lack of form, as well as a back injury which at one point Conte suggested could force him to miss the rest of the season.
The English climate is different to what Morata will have previously experienced in Spain and in Italy with Juventus, although whether that can be used as a real argument is debatable.
He proved that theory wrong today, finishing off a fine Chelsea move in one of the coldest games of the season.
The Spaniard has looked bereft of confidence in recent weeks and months, and it appeared that Olivier Giroud had overtaken him as Chelsea’s leading marksman until today.
Morata proved his class against a Leicester side that, had it not been for a late mistake, would have taken the current Premier League champions to penalties.
His well placed shot after an excellent Willian through ball opening the scoring before an audacious flick hit the crossbar.
Although not at the heights of the likes of Kane (24 goals) and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (28 goals), Morata has notched 10 goals of his own – a decent return considering he has missed a fair amount of games with injury in a team that is equally reliant on goals from wingers Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian.
With the cold weather subsiding, if that can be used as an excuse for some of Morata’s poor performances, and Chelsea’s chances of silverware increasing with an FA Cup semi-final, now is surely the time for Morata to produce some of his best form and lead Chelsea’s charge going into the back end of the season.
Tieumoue Bakayoko disappoints again for Chelsea against Leicester City
The Frenchman looked to struggle against his FA Cup opponents.
Tieumoue Bakayoko was one of the big-name signings for Chelsea during the summer as the club tried to push on under Antonio Conte after their Premier League triumph.
The Frenchman had been a standout player for AS Monaco during their surprise Ligue 1 winning campaign and cost the Blues a reported £40 million.
Although they are one of the richest clubs in the world, that remains a big spend and they would have been expecting a first-team ready player.
That hasn’t been the case as Bakayoko has struggled to adapt to English football and has found himself sidelined for Danny Drinkwater on several occasions.
The England international is an experienced Premier League player, but he was brought in to provide cover. It is a worry that he has been performing better than the player brought in to partner N’Golo Kante.
Chelsea managed to qualify for the semi-final of the FA Cup with an extra-time victory over Leicester City. However, Bakayoko was underwhelming once again after being brought back into the starting eleven.
He lasted until half-time before being replaced by Cesc Fabregas. During the first half, the Blues were too predictable in central midfield as neither player offered creativity from deep.
Wilfred Ndidi was arguably the best player in that area of the pitch as he dominated Bakayoko and Kante for the first-half.
The summer signing from Monaco was booked just before the break and didn’t re-emerge for the second-half. It was another disappointing performance from him as he failed to take the opportunity provided by Antonio Conte.
During the match, Bakayoko had a tackle success rate of 33% and he failed to make a single key pass to influence proceedings in the attacking half.
It was obvious that he was lacking in confidence as he often chose the simple pass and wasn’t as aggressive as the Leicester midfield players that he was competing with.
As the season has progressed, central midfield has emerged as an area of weakness for Chelsea. They often play with two defensive-minded midfielders and that makes them predictable to play against.
Last season, Nemanja Matic was more dynamic in central areas and he wasn’t afraid to step into the attacking half to contribute to attacks. The decision to sell him to a rival club now looks a huge mistake as the Blues are less effective in the middle of the park.
It was hoped that Ross Barkley would provide more energy to that position, but he has struggled with injuries since moving to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have a difficult task to save their season, as they must finish in the top four and lift the FA Cup to restore pride.
Bakayoko needs to have a strong end to his season if he is to prove himself worthy of another chance next season. There is likely to be a new manager at Stamford Bridge with Antonio Conte’s position looking more untenable by the day.
A managerial change will lead to a squad overhaul and the 23-year-old will be one of the first to go. He doesn’t offer anything different to Kante and his compatriot is far superior in every area.
His most ardent supporters will allude to his inexperience and suggest that he needs to be given more time. However, when watching him against the 21-year-old Ndidi, it became clear that he isn’t good enough for a club like Chelsea. He was outclassed and outbattled by his younger opponent.
Since Roman Abramovich bought the club, there have been several mistakes made in the transfer market. The decision to sell Matic and sign Bakayoko was another.
Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea: Three talking points from the Etihad
Manchester City managed to beat Chelsea for the second time this season as they continue their march to the Premier League title. The contest was far from entertaining, as the visitors showed no interest in playing football and instead to soak in pressure.
Pep Guardiola’s team didn’t have to get out of second gear and it was a more comfortable victory than they would have been expecting. The Citizens are now 18 points clear at the top of the table and remain on target for 100 points, which would be a superb achievement.
Meanwhile, Chelsea sit outside of the Champions League places and are now five points behind Tottenham in fourth position. They will need a near perfect end to the season if they are to avoid missing out on qualification for next season’s competition. Here are three talking points from the Etihad Stadium…
David Silva showed his class
The 32-year-old has been at Manchester City for the majority of their journey from Premier League also-rans to elite super club and he remains a crucial player for them under Pep Guardiola.
If he had been in the team for the entire campaign, he would be running Kevin de Bruyne close for the PFA Player of the Year award. He is a classy operator who seems to get better with age.
He got the important assist for the winning goal with a superb piece of play and that is becoming par for the course for the Spanish international. Silva completed 95% of his passes and made three key passes during the contest. Meanwhile, he was very good out of possession as he made three ball recoveries.
It has been incredible to watch Pep Guardiola get all of his attacking talent on the pitch at one time, but the improvement of both Silva and De Bruyne off the ball has helped achieve that.
They are now complete midfielders and capable of thriving in both halves of the pitch. The midfielder is a club legend and supporters will be hoping that he has a few years left in him.
Antonio Conte continues to make puzzling decisions
Last season, the Italian was lauded every week as his side won the league title comfortably, but he has failed to follow it up with a good second campaign. There have been a lot of problems for Chelsea this season including recruitment, tactics and player performance.
They have been reliant on Eden Hazard and as the campaign has progressed, the team have lost their intensity, which suggests they no longer believe in Conte.
Their 3-4-2-1 formation was revolutionary, but they have moved away from it frequently this season and haven’t been able to settle on a first eleven. That was one of Chelsea’s strengths last season. Gary Cahill and David Luiz have been sidelined, while Alvaro Morata has failed to replace Diego Costa sufficiently.
On Sunday, Conte chose to field Hazard as a lone frontman, but he struggled to impact the game in that role. He is best when having space in front of him to run into and he didn’t have that against Manchester City.
The Belgian international was isolated and touched the ball only 31 times. It was a tactical error and one that blunted Chelsea’s attack before a ball was kicked.
Ilkay Gundogan is flourishing in the middle of the park for Manchester City
The former Borussia Dortmund midfielder has had his problems since arriving in the Premier League.
He has suffered a few injuries and that has seen him struggle to secure a regular starting berth, but he has featured prominently in recent weeks and is perfect for the system. Gundogen recycles possession effectively and that is required, especially when the opposition team sits deep.
Gundogen touched the ball more than any other player on the pitch with 181 touches and was very good at distributing the ball quickly. He finished the match with a 96% pass success rate, which shows his role.
He wasn’t taking any risks and he didn’t have to. City have a lot of attacking talent and the German international isn’t required to try risky passes to influence the game.
Although Chelsea didn’t get on the ball much, Gundogen broke up the play when required with four ball recoveries. Fernandinho’s absence could allow the 27-year-old to secure the place on a permanent basis and he does offer more in the role, especially in possession. It was a strong performance and one of the standouts in a dull affair.
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