Stamford Bridge, once the scene for success and adulation for Jose Mourinho, became the setting for his Manchester United team to be soundly beaten by Chelsea. Arguably, not just beaten, but demolished in a match that highlighted how good Chelsea can be on their day and how much work is still to be done at Old Trafford if they are to reclaim the Premier League trophy.
There was a visibly added vigour in some of the Chelsea players; a level of desire and determination to beat their former boss, whose departure last season from Stamford Bridge was shrouded in acrimony. In what was an uncomfortable afternoon for the Portuguese manager, the animated behaviour of new Chelsea boss Antonio Conte appeared to irk him nearly as much as the performance of the Red Devils.
Chelsea out-fought and out-played United in every department, with a goal inside the first minute that eviscerated Mourinho’s game plan. He seemed unable to react and alter what was happening on the pitch and just six days after being heralded for defiantly denying Liverpool at Anfield to gain a goal-less draw, Mourinho was now being questioned.
United spent £156m in the summer, but still look an unbalanced squad. All this on the back of spending around £270m the previous two summers. In all, over £400m spent in three years and Manchester United look almost as far away from a title winning team as they did under David Moyes. Whilst there is undoubted talent within the squad, it is not one particularly suited to Mourinho’s favoured system and style. It is only fair to point out that Mourinho has only had one transfer window to shape his squad, but he was very specific throughout the summer in what he felt his requirements were and he most likely could’ve spent even more had he so desired.
Time is that magical and valuable commodity often spoken about with managers; they need time to build, time to shape their team, time to implement their system, time to succeed. However, time is not something Mourinho has historically utilised. His time at clubs has been relatively short, but largely trophy laden; his methods more about a means to an end for two or three years before either moving on or being shipped out. Short term planning for the here and now, rather than long term building for a dynasty is Mourinho’s MO – that’s not “Einstein” opinion, just fact.
Don’t get me wrong, that’s not me attacking him for his career approach, it’s just what he is and how he operates. Clubs know this and are fully aware that if they can hire Mourinho as their manager, his reign will not be a long one, but it will probably be a successful one. It all depends on what a club wants from a manager and Mourinho brings with him a well-documented track record.
Mourinho has long antagonised selected opposition managers in an attempt to gain any kind of advantage, yet still dazzle and charm the media with witty comments and an air of intelligence. In recent years though, that charm is beginning wear thin, much like his patience. His irritation has been clearly evident at being asked awkward questions, at his near-invincibility being eroded and the media increasingly seeing him as a mere mortal and no longer the ‘Special One’. His attempts to get under the skin of Jürgen Klopp by labelling Liverpool’s performance last week against United as a defensive one were laughed off by the German. The methods Mourinho employed to gain a psychological advantage over Arsene Wenger haven’t had the same effect on Klopp or Guardiola. Mourinho’s annoyance at Conte encouraging the Chelsea to make some noise near the end of the game was firmly and calmly dismissed by the Italian.
In all aspects, opposition managers know what they are facing when they meet Mourinho and perhaps the time has come for him to evolve his approach and style of play.
I am no fan of Mourinho when it comes to his methods on or off the pitch, but I can respect his achievements. To write him off so soon at Old Trafford would be as foolish as believing the drab draw he eked at Anfield was a “masterclass”. His appeal may be on the wane and perhaps players are not as taken in by his divisive methods as they were prior to his Real Madrid tenure, but he still has a sharp tactical brain and an iron resolve. Whilst he might be past his peak as a manager, don’t start writing his epitaph just yet.