Going into the FA Cup break, the Chelsea FC continued to make manager Jose Mourinho look great with their New Year’s Day 3-0 victory over Southampton FC. After being criticized for what was perceived as an over-cautious approach in his game strategy for much of the start of the season, Mourinho is hearing little of that talk now that his strikers have started putting balls in the net with more regularity. A measure of vindication has been earned along with the 3rd place spot in the standings. The Chelsea forwards, in particular Fernando Torres, have begun to come into their own and peak at the right time.
With Torres off to a slow start this season with respect to goals scored, some believed that he was a casualty of Mourinho’s defensive mindset. It is premature, however, to make that assessment. It might be that Mourinho has allowed himself and the Chelsea FC to be underestimated all season long. He never told anyone that he was only interested in creating a defensive squad. It certainly appeared that way, but Mourinho has always said that he wanted more scoring. Mourinho’s trademark game management style is to begin a match with one look only to make substitutions that take the side in a different direction. It is not too much of a stretch to believe that the entire season may have seen similar gamesmanship. It may be a little much to make Mourinho out to be some great schemer disguising the look of the Chelsea FC, but he has certainly engaged in a bit of misdirection.
While it appeared for most of the season so far that Mourinho was focusing on defensive shapes and strategy almost to the exclusion of his attack, it seems apparent now that it was not exactly the case. Closer to the truth may be that in order to take advantage of the skills of Chelsea players like Samuel Eto’o and Torres, some tinkering with the midfield and defensive positioning was required to find effective combinations. It has made it difficult for opponents to know what they will face when they square off against Chelsea. The ability to provide those customized combinations to specifically game plan every week for each club has turned them into an unpredictable challenge. What they will no longer be, however, is underestimated. Most clubs already have a healthy respect for the defensive prowess of the Chelsea back four defensive players. After seeing what they have been able to put together offensively in the last couple of matches, nobody will be taking their capabilities lightly any longer.
As late as Wednesday after the Southampton match, where they moved to within three points of the lead in the standings, Mourinho was still professing to believe that Chelsea was not really in the running for the Premier League championship. If he actually does believe that, he is possibly the only manager in the league that does. He may be protesting a little too much. There are games within games when trying to make sense of what look Mourinho will show when Chelsea FC takes the pitch each week, but it provides great entertainment for the fans and media alike.
By Jim Malone