So with the hype surrounding Jose Mourinho’s return to the Premier League slowly dying down, and his presence now becoming a reality, Chelsea are setting their sights on a successful season in which they can potentially upset the recent dominance of Manchester City and Manchester United.
Mourinho referred to this career move as ‘the last step in my formation as a manager’, which may mean he feels he has now been a journeyman long enough, and has experienced the varying degrees of difficulty in the European game. He handled the speed of the English game, the tactical nature of the Italians, and the immense scrutiny, pressure and politics of managing a club like Real Madrid, winning trophies everywhere along the way (Mourinho has now won the league title in 7 out of his last 11 seasons and has won a minimum of 1 trophy in 10 of these seasons).
Chelsea have began to make some noise in the transfer market by bringing in Andre Schurrle and Marco Van Ginkel, as the first game of the season edges closer. Both are relatively young players at 22 and 20, however Schurrle is certainly capable of impacting the first team. He excelled at Bayer Leverkusen in driving in off the flank, being accurate from distance, arriving in the box at the right times, and also creating for his team mates (11 goals and 7 assists last season in the league).
Van Ginkel seems to be more of a squad investment for such a crucial position in central midfield, he scored 8 goals in the Eredivise last season and was the leagues young player of the season, and you can read more about him here. But with only two transfers so far, will Chelsea look all that different under Mourinho?
I need to start from ground zero, and build a different team here now to the team I built in the past.
It actually seems like they will. Despite these being the only official transfers in, Chelsea have a number of players coming in who will be the equivalent of ‘new additions’ to the squad. Romelu Lukaku who makes his return from West Brom benefitted greatly from his season away, and now looks the real deal. He had previously claimed his lack of opportunities upon first joining Chelsea was killing his passion for the game, however after 17 goals and 4 assists in his first full Premier League season at the age of 20, Lukaku seems to be in a prime position to take the centre forward spot from Fernando Torres and Demba Ba.
He has shown hunger, strength and ability at the top level now, and must be feeling great deal more confident that Mourinho has a role for him. In Kevin De Bruyne Chelsea have another player with bags of potential who was sent out on loan for experience, proving a real asset to Werder Bremen and making appearances for an increasingly talented Belgian national team. At 22, he will now be looking to take his career to the next level and has spoke of his desire to impress Mourinho this season now he has returned to the club.
The Importance of Transitions
So how will Chelsea play this season? It is very widely documented the amount of importance that Mourinho places on ‘transitions’, the way in which the team responds to either gaining possession, or losing possession. On winning possession should they counter-attack and exploit space in behind in a direct manner?
Or are the opposition organised enough that retaining possession and building from the back would be smarter? When possession is lost are there enough players in close proximity to press immediately and win possession back? Or do the team need to fall into two organised banks of four and get behind the ball? Mourinho works tirelessly at getting his players to recognise these triggers to get a collective response (which is part of what made the Champions League semi-final vs. Dortmund last season so exciting, two teams who transition incredibly quickly). ‘Control’ has now become a massive part of the game, something which allows teams like Stoke City to survive at this level, and something which can turn not having the ball from a negative into a positive.
Transitions have become crucial. When the opponent is organised defensively, it is very difficult to score. The moment the opponent loses the ball can be the time to exploit the opportunity of someone being out of position. Similarly when we lose the ball we must react immediately. In training I sometimes practice keeping a minimum of five players behind the ball, so that when we lose it we can still keep a good defensive shape. The players must learn to read the game – when to press and when to return to their defensive positions. Everybody says that set plays win most games, but I think it is more about transitions.”
So with this in mind, how will Mourinho look to go about utilising the squad he has at his disposal? It is probably worth noting that as I don’t support Chelsea I may not have as much in-depth knowledge about who the fans feel deserve to start and in which positions, however I’ve attempted a potential line-up from the current pre-season squad and will explain the selections.
It is likely that Mourinho is still looking to bring in regular first team starters, for example the recent links to Wayne Rooney and Luis Suarez, however even without these transfers, Chelsea would still be able to field a starting XI capable of mounting a serious challenge. There have been rumours (nothing particularly strong) surrounding an exit for David Luiz, which doesn’t seem surprising as there is a massive level of discipline required to be a successful player under Mourinho, and perhaps if he does stay we may see him fall out of favour the same way Pepe did at Real, despite his immense talent.
The obvious absence from this line-up is Ramires, who may well be a first team starter, however I think a defensive midfield combination of Oscar and Ramires would be unlikely for the distinct lack of a disciplined holder, so I imagine it would be one or the other, considering they are both capable higher up the pitch. Here you can read about what may potentially be Oscar’s best position.
It is very much likely that now, under Mourinho, Chelsea can benefit massively from their investment in young players over the next couple of seasons. It is very easy to forget that last season Eden Hazard was only 21, and with his first Premier League season out of the way now has his best years ahead of him. Similarly Juan Mata having only just turned 25, can hope for an improvement on last years 12 goals and 12 assists in the league. They have planned for the future with a potentially world class keeper in Thibaut Courtois due to return next season from his loan at Atletico Madrid to challenge Cech for a starting spot. With Ryan Bertrand also hoping to mould himself into Ashley Cole’s permanent replacement, Chelsea have an abundance of young talent to mix with the experience they already have at their disposal.
So Jose Mourinho will be looking to repeat his original feat of winning the league in his first season (back) with the club, and his track record says they have a good chance. It will be interesting to see whether he uses a 4-2-3-1 similar to his Real Madrid team, or a 4-3-3 not unlike his old Chelsea side, but one thing for certain is that it will be exciting to have him back.