The second era of Jose Mourinho began today, and predictably, all of the media glow was focused on Mourinho, and in typical Mourinho fashion, he basked in it, radiating as he took his familiar place in the home dugout. The visitors were newly promoted side Hull City, and ironically enough won their place in the Premier League with an oddly Mourinho-esque style of results, usually with a goal separating the sides they faced, often winning 1-0 or 2-1.
Chelsea lined up in the low familiar 4-2-3-1, though throughout the game, especially during their period of dominance within the first half, Chelsea switched into an unorthodox 4-3-3, the type previously used by Mourinho in his former stint in charge, with the Brazilian star Oscar dropping deeper to spread the play alongside Lampard with Ramires playing box to box, leaving De Bruyne and Hazard as the “wingers” who both occupied the same block of space in front of the 18 yard box and behind Fernando Torres.
The Hull team sheet had them lining up in an orthodox 4-3-3, but as the game progressed Aluko and Sagbo began to drop further back in order to alleviate the pressure on El Mohamady and Figueroa and also to prevent the 2v1 overlapping runs of Ashley Cole, and a surprisingly attacking Branislav Ivanovic, with left Hull with a more loose 4-5-1, which left Graham isolated and having to feed off of clearances and hopeful balls from his full backs, which were easily intercepted to Gary Cahill and John Terry.
Though his position on the tactics board shows him to be playing on the left wing, Hazard’s passes across the 90 minutes show him to be free roaming and covering virtually everywhere in the attacking third, this freedom and ability to link up with other players was a major thorn in the side of Hull, and the Belgian created 6 chances as a result of his play, the highest this weekend. Hazard also fed fellow countryman Kevin De Bruyne, who stabbed through to Oscar to secure The Blues’ first goal of the campaign.
A particular highlight from the match was the solid battling performance from Ramires, the often maligned Brazilian acted as a barrier within the two man midfield alongside Frank Lampard, a role usually assigned to someone with a greater physique such as John Obi Mikel or the returning Michael Essien. Nevertheless, Ramires did his job well, breaking up a large number of Hull attacks, the vast number of which were concentrated through the midfield, having faced no luck when testing Ashley Cole or Branislav Ivanovic, as neither Elmohamady or Figueroa cost escape from their own halves, due to the relentless pressure of Hazard, Cole, De Bruyne and Ivanovic. In fairness, Ramires was not burdened with facing one of the finest midfield the Premier League had to offer, and the few times Hull broke, they lacked both conviction and men forward, but the wiry Brazilian did well when called upon, regaining possession 9 times, clearing 5 and completing 92% of his passes. Not backpage material, but a solid performance from a midfielder Mourinho seems keen on.
For all of the attacking flair and panache talked about with this new look Chelsea, Mourinho has regained one crucial aspect of his philosophy from his first tenure at Stamford Bridge. The ability to seal a lead through defending. While the opposition was not the strongest and the lead a comfortable one, Mourinho still stuck to his guns. Not to say the team “parked the bus”, but the second half saw a much more reserved display from Chelsea. This is exemplified by the amount of passes in the attacking third, during the first half, there were 108 passes attempted within Chelsea’s attacking third, 81 of them finding their intended target, compare that to the second half, where there were 56 passes in Hull’s defensive third, and 36 of them found their man and the contrast is stark. There are many comparisons to be made, in the first half, Chelsea created 11 chances, in the second, 5. This shows that while Mourinho will allow his players to go forward and attack, he clearly values the defence and its solidarity, compared to the more attack minded and less defensively prioritised Roberto Di Matteo, whose Chelsea conceded a vast quantity of sloppy and needless goals.
Mourinho himself acknowledged the drop in the attacking play in the first half saying “It is not a surprise for me that the second half could not be the same as the first half, because the first half was outstanding, and it’s not a surprise in the second half the intensity of our game went down because our pre-season was not an easy one and this week almost every player was involved with their national teams, so it was not a surprise for me.”
Despite their lack of intensity in the second half, Chelsea’s excellence in the first sealed the result for them, their greater challenges lay ahead, with the nearest in the shape of David Moyes and Manchester United in just over one weeks time, whether Mourinho’s Chelsea can glide through that game so easily remains to be seen.