Jose Mourinho's Chelsea sharks lack the strength in depth of Manchester City
Sunday 27 October 2013
For all he talked about "sharks", Jose Mourinho wouldn't bite. The Portuguese refused to discuss his relationship with Manuel Pellegrini ahead of the summit meeting with Manchester City, nor that club's greater expenditure.
Indeed, a somewhat surly Chelsea manager clearly did not want to aggravate any other issues ahead of today's game at Stamford Bridge. To a degree, this cageyness reflects just how important he thinks this game is – and also his approach to such matches on the pitch itself.
There can be no denying that Mourinho has developed an aptitude for fixtures like this. In 44 notional "big" league games since taking over Porto in 2002, he has won 25 and lost just six. It is a remarkable record, with a win ratio of 56 per cent.
At the same time, there was nothing remarkable about Mourinho's only game against another English giant so far this season. In August's 0-0 draw at Manchester United, Chelsea were conspicuously cautious. Mourinho's side certainly never looked like winning.
"It's a natural consequence of a new manager," he argues. "We are not a perfect team, Man United is not a perfect team. Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool have better conditions than us to have a better start and to be more compact and closer to the managers' ideas."
In the period since that game at Old Trafford, Chelsea have at least come closer to Mourinho's ideal. The relentlessness of his tenure in 2004-06 has started to resurface. The side have won four consecutive games while scoring 14 goals. Even if there remain issues in central midfield and up front, that attack could prove productive against a City side that have been defensively soft on the road.
Mourinho could not resist at least pointing to the supremely high-quality squad Pellegrini has been afforded as he discussed the resources that create such big teams and big games. He insists "football needs sharks" like the modern Manchester City and Chelsea, and also "needs investment and people who love the game and want to make smaller clubs bigger clubs".
There was the implication too that his club are now doing their spending in a more mature manner while City continue to wield the wallet. "Chelsea has changed a lot, and Chelsea has changed thinking the Financial Fair Play is going to be in practice. And of course Chelsea want Uefa to rule the situation and find if somebody is not doing the same.
"I come to Chelsea following a certain philosophy and I'm more than happy with the support that the board and owner have. I'm happy that it's not [unlimited spending]."
It is arguably that difference which has meant Chelsea lack the strength in depth of City – the reason why he does not have a "perfect team" – and today they face an attack that has produced the most prolific scoring record in the top flight.
As his defence prepares to negate that force, Mourinho has left out David Luiz after his error against Cardiff City. But he insists that is not the reason why the widely criticised Brazilian is not in his plans, adding that the days of fixed central defensive partnerships are gone.
"I don't have a first pick," he said. "I analyse things week by week. In modern football it's not possible any more like 20 years ago where you start the season with two central defenders and one match a week, they play the same players all the time. A team needs three, four central defenders and we have that, and with [Branislav] Ivanovic we have even five and I'm confident with them."
Mourinho does acknowledge that Luiz has to make changes. "Sometimes he makes a little mistake. He has to work on that stability because it's important for the team, the team needs him and he has natural conditions to be a real top, top, top central defender in the world of football, so he has to reach that stability, that maturity."
Yet if Mourinho maintains that Chelsea now have a more mature approach to transfers than City, what kind of shark are they? "A clever one, a shark that knows when to attack, and how to attack." He has proved that in previous big games. Today will require more teeth than he had at Old Trafford.
The big fish
Since taking over at Porto in 2002, Jose Mourinho has played 44 league games against teams that could have been considered genuine title rivals:
Played: 44. Won: 25. Drawn: 13. Lost: 6. Goals for: 67. Against: 36
The rivals that beat Mourinho:
Manchester Utd 1-0 Chelsea, 2005-06
Liverpool 2-0 Chelsea, 2006-07
Milan 1-0 Internazionale, 2008-09
Roma 2-1 Internazionale, 2009-10
Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid, 2010-11
Real Madrid 1-3 Barcelona, 2011-12
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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