Chelsea’s unbeaten run now stretches to 23 games in all competitions but, as manager Jose Mourinho has said, it is not Arsenal’s “Invincibles” whom they are aspiring to emulate. Whether they can follow Chelsea’s title-winners of 2004-05 is a better question.
The Premier League leaders began the middle third of the season on Wednesday night with a performance suggesting they are likely champions. Chelsea were briefly under pressure at Stamford Bridge from a lively Tottenham side before taking the game away from Spurs with two goals in three minutes.
The 3-0 victory was the performance of a side completely in control of their own game, and after 11 wins and three draws so far in the Premier League, Mourinho is already being asked about the great Arsenal team of 2003-04. The Chelsea manager’s response was that football is not about avoiding defeat but rather about amassing points.
“We are not playing for that,” Mourinho had said this week, pointing out that five wins and five defeats earn more points over 10 games than if they are all drawn.
It might have been a barb but it is also true, and raises another question. If Chelsea are not aiming to match Arsenal in 2003-04, might they strive for the record of the following season, when Mourinho set the highest Premier League points total of 95 in his first season in England?
There is more than a hint of his first Chelsea side – their hunger and their balance – in this latest version. It helps that they have the same manager, of course, but on Wednesday they also had their old centre-forward back. Didier Drogba, over 10 years on from when he first arrived at Stamford Bridge, scored one and made another against Tottenham, and looked closer to his former self than he has done all season.
Drogba has another role too, though, teaching the younger players aiming for their first title exactly what is required of them. Oscar – who admitted that the unbeaten run was “on their minds” but that the team “starts every time and plays for a win” – was 13 years old and starting out at Sao Paulo when Mourinho and Drogba won their first title together. Now, he is learning from them what he has to do.
“Mourinho speaks before the games and makes sure our feet stay on the floor, because you don’t win the league or the Champions League at the start of the season, or in the middle of the season,” Oscar said after the win over Spurs. “We have so many games to play and we need to continue to win them.
“Of course he wants us to stay confident. But not too much because that can be dangerous. He tells the attacking players to go for goals, to play our football, but when you don’t have the ball you have to defend. That is the way we have been winning games.”
Drogba does not have the role that he once did – he is the back-up to Diego Costa – but he has other responsibilities too, especially with Frank Lampard having left. Mourinho said on Wednesday that Drogba would stay at the club in some capacity once he has finished playing, and it is no surprise.
“I saw Drogba on the TV when I was young, and we now play together,” Oscar said of the man whose goal he set up on Wednesday. “He speaks not just with me, but with the attacking players. He scored so many goals for Chelsea. He really pushes the young players. He wants to score every game. He wants to score and to help with the game. I like Didier.”
None of this means that Drogba is likely to keep his place at Newcastle United on Saturday lunch-time. Costa is back from suspension and is set to return to the team, rested and hungry. The arrivals of Costa and Cesc Fabregas in the summer have made the biggest difference, as Oscar identified.
“The last year the team was good but this year it is better,” he said, “because they have come here.” But Chelsea’s evolution has an eye on the past, too, as they aim again for the standards they set before.Reuse content