The Champions League continued on Wednesday and brought the biggest shock of the competition so far, as Swiss outfit FC Basel overcame Europa League holders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It is of course easy to react in an over-the-top fashion following results like this, but the loss of the first Champions League tie of Jose Mourinho’s second reign does pose some intriguing questions.
Is Jose as good as he used to be?
We all know how good Jose Mourinho has been. His record rather speaks for itself, with Champions League wins at Porto and Inter Milan as well as domestic league wins in Portugal, Italy, England and Spain.
But is the Portuguese maestro losing his touch? Mourinho has always been famed for his tactical nous and ingenuity – especially in the Champions League – but his ability to win the big European competition has eluded him in the last few seasons. In his three years in Madrid, Mourinho failed to deliver the Galacticos the prize that they have craved above all others – the Champions League title – and although he was able to add one La Liga title to the Los Merengues’ records, some may well regard his time in Spain as a failure; especially for a manager with the ambition of Jose Mourinho.
Wednesday’s defeat added further weight to the suggestion that Mourinho’s star has – if not fallen – been turned slightly skewiff. This was Chelsea’s first group stage loss at home for ten years, and the side continued to look as unbalanced and unproductive as they have in the rest of this season’s matches. Whether this is a glitch or a sign of things to come remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, there are question marks over Mourinho’s ability to get the best out of this Chelsea side in his second spell in charge.
Does he have the right players?
One of the problems Mourinho seems to have is that the players he currently has at his disposal are not necessarily his type of players. His first reign at Stamford Bridge was characterised by a solid, relatively defensive outlook, and with a spine of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, Chelsea played a very narrow grinding style that proved to be highly effective.
Whilst Terry and Lampard are still at the Bridge, they’ve aged considerably since then, and with Drogba departing for pastures new, that strong Chelsea spine no longer exists. During Mourinho’s time away from Chelsea, the Blues have invested heavily, but the players they’ve invested in are not really ‘Mourinho’ type players. David Luiz, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata are all ‘creative’ players, players purchased at considerable cost, who don’t necessarily fit into the way that Mourinho likes to set his teams out.
To get the best out of players like Mata and Hazard, it’s often necessary to give them some freedom and allow them to roam. This isn’t something that Mourinho is generally prepared to do – a notable exception being Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid, but then again, that’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Mourinho likes his players to work hard, he likes them to track back and defend, and ultimately, forcing players like Mata and Hazard to do that limits their effectiveness and consequently blunts their attacking threat.
Unfortunately for Jose, the considerable outlay invested in these players means that he is stuck with them, and the result at the moment is a kind of halfway house between the Mourinho of old, and a new, more adventurous Mourinho. As the results so far this season show, the halfway house isn’t working too well at the moment.
A paucity of striking options
As alluded to earlier, plenty of Mourinho’s previous success at Chelsea was built around the Terry, Lampard and Drogba spine, and with Drogba having departed Chelsea; Mourinho is missing a crucial piece of his highly successful jigsaw. Having Drogba in the side allowed Chelsea to play the Mourinho way – a typical Chelsea attack used to begin with a long ball to Drogba – and using Drogba as his main man proved highly effective for the Chelsea manager.
With Drogba gone, Mourinho is relying on the striking ability of Fernando Torres, Demba Ba and Samuel Eto’o. Torres’s lack of form is well documented, whilst Demba Ba looks a shadow of the player that he once was at Newcastle and Samuel Eto’o is industrious without showing anything like the spark that the Cameroonian had during his time at Barcelona and Inter Milan. None of these players are in great form (although is is early days for Eto’o), but perhaps even more crucially, none of these players are Didier Drogba. Without a player in the Drogba mould, Mourinho cannot play his usual style, and this is clearly to his detriment.
Will Abramovich be patient?
Despite the fact that Mourinho is not enjoyed a perfect start to his second spell at Stamford Bridge, I still believe that he is an excellent manager; and given time I am positive that he will be able to turn Chelsea into title winners and Champions League contenders. However, will Mourinho be given the time he needs to exact that change upon the Blues?
Since Mourinho’s departure in 2007, Chelsea have been through 7 managers, with owner Roman Abramovich not exactly famed for being patient with his employees. If you don’t win, you’re more or less out of the door. Will it be the same for Jose Mourinho? If Chelsea’s decidedly dodgy form continues, will Abramovich be patient, or will he usher the ‘Special One’ out of the door as speedily as he has done with all other recent employees?
If he’s patient, then there’s little doubt that Mourinho will almost certainly be able to deliver Chelsea some success, but Abramovich’s track record suggests that that’s quite a big ‘if’.