Chelsea 3 Manchester United 1 - Comment: Jose Mourinho reaches 100 Premier League wins in second gear, but tougher tests await
Chelsea did not have to be at their best to see of United
It has been a week of significant centuries, Jose Mourinho chalking up his 100th Premier League victory a day after Manchester City post a cricket score of goals. Which is the more significant? None has reached the ton quicker than the Chelsea coach. One of the more worrying aspects of this result for David Moyes is how little light it casts on Chelsea, who, after a sluggish start, won in second gear with a hat-trick scored by a striker passing through Stamford Bridge en route to retirement in MLS.
Mourinho was in and out of the Chelsea media lounge, a commitment to spend the evening with the nation’s football writers taking him into the London night sharpish. Perfecting his speech gave him more problems than dealing with the threat posed by United. There was nothing he could say that might enlighten us. His patronising tone was perhaps the most brutal commentary on United’s day: “For the first 20 minutes they were better than us”; “United didn’t deserve to be 2-0 down at half time.” And so on.
He had a believer in Moyes, about whom there is little more to add, other than he presents a preternatural calm in the circumstances, as if the results don’t matter and he is piecing together a puzzle the dimensions of which only he can see. Seven defeats by January ought to damn him but somehow they don’t.
To speak in obsequious terms about United has been a theme running through Mourinho’s jaunty delivery since his return to the Premier league. You wonder whether a nest is not being feathered should the Moyes regime continue to falter. Mourinho’s husbandry of resources at Chelsea has been typically sharp, and in obvious contrast to the confrontational stereotype that attaches to him.
He continues to chip away at the process he describes as “evolution”. Five months ago he took his team to Old Trafford in überdefensive mode, his ambition no greater than to keep a clean sheet and maybe nick a goal. Moyes ended that match with three strikers claiming he was the manager more interested in winning.
What Mourinho offers and Moyes lacks is a discernible method. On Sunday, Moyes started with a young winger at centre-forward, a centre-back in the heart of midfield, and finished with another at right-back when Patrice Evra came off. If this is a matter of resources what is he doing about it? So far only one player has come in, and one has left. If last summer was too soon and January is too tricky, what is a World Cup summer, with the most desirable players tucked away in Brazil for a month?
No such difficulties for Mourinho, who was appointed about the same time as Moyes and benefited from the addition of Willian, Eto’o and André Schürrle. As we move through the meat of the season, Mourinho has shaped a side that is efficient rather than expansive; the players both know what the manager wants of them and understand more about each other; and most impressive of all he coaxed a performance out of Eto’o redolent of his peak years.
The real measure of Mourinho is his record against Chelsea’s principal rivals. United went the way of City and Liverpool here. Chelsea came away from Old Trafford, the Emirates and White Hart Lane undefeated. Their next away game is at the Etihad, which might go some way to answering the question at the top of this piece.
Moyes’ record against the top four teams is shocking, with only one victory in the Premier League against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and United when those teams were in the Champions League slots. In seven matches this season against high-end opposition Moyes has only the defeat of Arsenal to show for his industry. As he sifts through the debris of another reverse it is becoming increasingly harder to determine what it was about him that appealed more to the United hierarchy than Mourinho when replacing Sir Alex Ferguson.
This is not necessarily to pan Moyes, but to highlight the qualities Mourinho guarantees and which he shared with Ferguson. When the game was in the balance, as it was until Eto’o’s deflected shot quashed the brittle confidence holding United together, there was a snap shot that demonstrated Mourinho’s power and influence.
David Luiz had been smashed by the corner flag but was considered the offender by referee Phil Dowd. Mourinho flung his arms in the air and stamped his brown suede boots about his technical area before casting the referee a look of thunder. Dowd not only noticed the tantrum, he smiled at Mourinho, as if their brief communion conveyed upon him some special understanding that he might have with the Chelsea manager.
The attention of Mourinho seemed to matter a little too much to Dowd in that incident, which ought to trouble the official. It is not so much that he would consciously submit to bias, but that he might subliminally.
Mourinho made light of his personal century, saying that the most important feature was the three points gained. The match at the Etihad will not decide the title but it might effect a momentum swing. Though United were busy and focused in the early part of the game, the signs were there in the pace and purpose displayed by Eden Hazard, and the industry of Willian, who directed the traffic in a way United could not match.
Mourinho’s knack of eking out the right outcome when it matters was never tested once the second goal went in, another defensive disaster for Moyes to ponder. Even when they saw little of the ball in the opening exchanges there was never a sense of panic in this Chelsea side. They bore the patience of champions, knowing that when opportunity knocked, they would take advantage.
Mourinho wished United well, hoped they would make the top four by the season’s end. Then off he went, the great Condescender.
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