Mourinho’s managerial mastery evident as his rivals flounder

Portuguese quickly identified and then addressed Chelsea’s shortcomings

On August 16th Alexis Sanchez, all €40 million of him, made his Arsenal debut in a 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace. Twelve weeks later, the man who bought Sanchez, Arsene Wenger, conceded the Premier League title to Chelsea.

This scenario, presumably, was not in the Arsenal brochure sold to Sanchez.

“It doesn’t look like anybody is capable of challenging them at the moment,” Wenger said of Chelsea, as if he were merely an interested onlooker.

On August 17th Manchester City began the defence of their Premier League title with a 2-0 victory at St James' Park courtesy of goals from David Silva and Sergio Aguero, just two of the model players in City's catwalk of experience and glamour.


Twelve weeks later Man City are eight points adrift of Chelsea, with one win in their last six matches and face the prospect of being wiped out of the Champions League at home to Bayern Munich next Tuesday.

On September 1st Manchester United signed Radamel Falcao on a €7.5 million loan deal to take their summer spending under new manager Louis van Gaal to around €187 million. Plus wages.

Ten weeks later, United are 13 points behind Chelsea and Falcao has one goal. This week United's chief executive Ed Woodward resorted to bragging about a 72 per cent increase in Daley Blind's Twitter following as proof of progress.

As for Liverpool, one win in six and 11th in the table, they are nine points worse off than at the same stage last season, when they did not have a banned Luis Suarez available for the first five games.

Next Wednesday Liverpool go to Bulgaria to play Ludogorets in the Champions League and a loss there could see the Reds worrying about whether they want to be in the Europa League. Meanwhile, Chelsea march on.

Four games

“Look at the season and Chelsea are on course for 105 points,” Wenger said in the Swansea rain a fortnight ago.

Arsenal had lost to two late Swansea goals and while it was only Arsenal’s second league defeat, they have also won only four games.

Chelsea have won nine Premier League matches already, and drawn the other two. Jose Mourinho’s players last experienced a league loss in April, bizarrely at home to Sunderland. There is now much talk of Chelsea emulating Wenger’s Arsenal Invincibles of a decade ago.

We await developments there. But that a manager of Wenger’s stature can call the league title in early November says much about the unreliable nature of his team, as well as Manuel Pellegrini’s, Brendan Rodgers’ and Van Gaal’s. Arsenal, City, United, Liverpool – a strung-out quartet.

Given their talent and economic power, City's is the most puzzling case. How in the fortnight before the international break can City have exited the League Cup, lost to West Ham, at home to CSKA Moscow and scrambled a draw at QPR? There should be questions in parliament at Westminster.

Meanwhile, Chelsea march on. This season Chelsea have been to City, United and Liverpool – drawn two and won one.

They have beaten Arsenal 2-0 at home. They have scored six at Everton and four against Swansea. Chelsea are not at the top because of an easy run, they are there because they have a rounded squad and a superb manager.

We will not forget the origin of Chelsea's strength – the wealth provided to Roman Abramovich by the vicious carve-up of the Soviet Union's natural resources.

But Mourinho rules.

We may also not forget the ugly side of his character – the Tito Vilanova incident is always there – but Mourinho brings a beauty of his own to the game. He brings the beauty of certainty.

It must be a universal feeling among fans that Jose Mourinho arriving at their club would bring an immediate improvement. This applies as much to York City as Manchester City. It is hard to imagine City undergoing their current malaise with Mourinho in charge.

Alleged rivals

One reason is that Mourinho would have bought, if not “better”, then more appropriately in the last two transfer windows. His alleged rivals are guilty of unnecessary or unbalanced spending. Did Arsenal need Sanchez more than a new centre-half? Do United not need a commanding midfielder more than Falcao? Why did Liverpool buy Mario Balotelli? And is €40 million a justified fee for City’s Eliaquim Mangala?

Mourinho has instead addressed the chemistry of his team, altering the specifics rather than re decorating the lab.

In the summer he sold David Luiz and Romelu Lukaku for €85 million and acquired Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa for €77 million.

Last January Mourinho sold Juan Mata for €46 million and bought Nemanja Matic for €26 million. It meant that during the international break Chelsea were able to declare a profit.

At 51, Mourinho has plenty behind him and much in front. He still has the ability to antagonise through arrogance, yet his self-analysis is stripped of conceit, at least sometimes.

In a recent interview, Mourinho said of his team’s evolution since his return to Stamford Bridge 17 months ago: “We had certain limitations in the team in terms of tactical qualities, technical qualities, and we were aware of that. My style of leadership is not a style. I try to have a leadership that is adapted to the reality.”

In other words, he saw what was wrong and fixed it. Some could call this pragmatism and would downgrade the significance of what Mourinho did, and does, with that description. Others might call it common sense, and again seek to downplay the ability on show.

But as the poet said: “Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.”

Brian Clough is often used as the English comparison for Mourinho, but actually there is something of the Bob Paisley about him: the brilliant fixer, the deft manipulator of talent. There can be no higher compliment.

Today, against West Brom, is Chelsea’s first home game since beating QPR on November 1st. After it, Mourinho complained of the lack of atmosphere at Stamford Bridge – “playing here is like playing in an empty stadium”.

He is in a position to comment. At other grounds fans would be bouncing and wailing with glee to have someone who brought such certainty to performance, while rival clubs flounder, 11 games in.