Chelsea Still Waiting for Lift Off in Second Mourinho Spell

Every manager has a tell; a sign that their frustrations are in serious danger of bubbling over in public. Rafa Benitez’s face fills with red blotches, portable heat-maps of rage. Arsene Wenger swings his giant flamingo legs at innocent water bottles. Jose Mourinho, on the other hand, simply ceases to be amused by crap questions.

You sense that Mourinho generally loves a crap question. He tends to crack an indulgent smile and then cast a sideways glance to the serious national journalists as if to say, “I know we have our differences, but at least you’re better than this.” But Mourinho is nothing if not a devious sod, and he usually wibbles forth for as long as he can, fully aware that it reduces the time available for questions that might be rather more dangerous. But not on Saturday. 

On Saturday, Mourinho came within one ludicrous refereeing decision of losing a second Premier League match on the spin. On Saturday, Mourinho refused a second question to a journalist whose first question had seriously narked him. On Saturday, after Mourinho had explained that there was very little even the best teams could do against an opponent that defends with two disciplined banks of men, he was met with the response, “Erm...maybe you could have had more shots on target?” On Saturday, I fear Mourinho came very close to beating a journalist to death with his dictaphone.

Even the most ardent Chelsea supporter would have to accept that the Second Coming has so far been, like the Stone Roses album of the same name, decent enough, but not a patch on the first one. Granted, it’s a little mean-spirited to criticise a team for being only four points off the top, but regulars at Stamford Bridge will know how fortunate their team was against Aston Villa, Manchester City and, of course, West Bromwich Albion. Away supporters who, with the exception of the trip to Norwich, have seen just one goal in four days out, may be even more concerned. In a poor season, Chelsea are keeping pace with the leaders, but that’s just about all that can be said for them. 

Like so many others, (he typed in an effort to absolve himself of blame) I tipped Chelsea for the title. With the other major clubs under new and unfamiliar management and Arsenal being, well, Arsenal, I thought that the return of Mourinho would galvanise the Blues from the stands to the dressing room. That may still prove to be the case, the season is yet young, but it doesn’t look good so far. Arsenal, by contrast, have been anything but, well, Arsenal. 

The problem, it seems, is that we all entirely underestimated the scale of Mourinho’s task. It was easy enough to match one of the world’s best managers with a club whose supporters adored him and a dressing room loaded with talent, and presume that success would be forthcoming. But perhaps we should have taken a closer look at his inheritance. 

In finishing third with their highest points total since they won the title in 2010, Rafa Benitez actually did quite well. This is a brilliant, but unbalanced, temperamental squad accumulated by nine managers in ten years and paid for by a gazillionaire with all the patience of a toddler on a long car journey. The first choice defence has an average age of 30, the midfield doesn’t look fit for purpose, the attacking midfielders can’t be trusted to tackle back and the strikers have scored just three goals between them all season. 

Yes, Mourinho might have been wiser to retain Romelu Lukaku, but given that he had four strikers and a strict limit on squad space, you can understand why he might ship out the youngest player. Yes, Chelsea have money, but so do lots of clubs nowadays. 

Far from being straightforward, this is actually a horrid job. This squad needs three or four transfer windows and a lot of patience, but a season that ends with anything less than either the title or the Champions League has brought the sack to every manager Roman Abramovich has ever employed, with the exception of Mourinho who clung on for just over a month of the following campaign. 

In short, it’s hardly surprising that the man is so tetchy and perhaps, just perhaps, it’s time we reassessed expectations.

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