Chelsea: Will Jose 'Almost' Win Again?

Our Philip Cornwall really can't help hoping that Jose Mourinho comes second this season - which will still be a hell of a lot higher than Chelsea's fair play standing...

Last Updated: 14/08/14 at 14:59 Post Comment

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LAST SEASON
Premier League
3rd, 82pts, +44 GD Champions League Semi-finals European Super Cup Runners-up FA Cup Fifth round League Cup Quarter-finals Top league scorer Eden Hazard 14 Bookings 61 (10th=) with three red cards

Manager Jose Mourinho (since June 2013; age 51) Odds on being first out of his job 33-1 (15th=)

Players in Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid, £32m), Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona, £27m), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid, £15.8m), Mario Pasalic (Hajduk Split, £2.4m; loaned to Elche), Didier Drogba (Galatasaray, free)

Players out David Luiz (PSG, £50m), Romelu Lukaku (Everton, £28m), Demba Ba (Besiktas, £4.7m), Patrick van Aanholt (Sunderland, undisc), Ashley Cole (Roma, free), Frank Lampard (New York City, free), Tomas Kalas (Cologne, loan), Wallace (Vitesse Arnhem, loan), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Mönchengladbach, loan), Bertrand Traore (Vitesse, loan), Cristian Cuevas (Universidad de Chile, loan), Ryan Bertrand (Southampton, loan), Gael Kakuta (Rayo Vallecano, loan), John Swift (Rotherham United, loan), Oriol Romeu (Stuttgart, loan), Kenneth Omeruo (Middlesbrough, loan), Christian Atsu (Everton, loan), Marko Marin (Fiorentina, loan), Samuel Eto'o, Henrique Hilario (released)

Club turnover in 2012-13 £260m, 4th

Wage bill in 2012-13 £179m, 3rd

After a six-year exile, 2013-14 saw a welcome return to England for Jose Mourinho - a new, mellower Mourinho, initial reports suggested.

The Premier League fair play table offers points in six categories - red and yellow cards; positive play; respect towards opponents; respect towards referees; behaviour of club officials; behaviour of the public. It is satisfying to note that five of the top six in the proper league table occupy the top five places in the fair play table, and that the exception are Chelsea. You will be shocked to discover that a side managed by Mourinho came 19th on respect shown to referees, and joint bottom on the behaviour of club officials.

Chelsea fans will probably not be too bothered by any of that but the rest of us need to remember that any time anyone suggests that the Portuguese has changed. What has changed is the environment he finds himself in, with no longer the deepest pockets in the division and without the strength of squad he inherited in the summer of 2004. That mantle has passed to petroleum and soccerball giants Manchester City, albeit that Sheikh Mansour has to operate against a background of financial fair play regulations, not around when Roman Abramovich was spending Russia's oil and aluminium resources on his initial collection of toy soldiers.

Manchester United, too, despite the David Moyes debacle, are able to collect astonishing sums in commercial deals, meaning the Glazers' leveraged purchase has little effect on their ability to spend. Arsenal do not have United's income but are still coining it in and are more willing to spend. Liverpool may or may not be able to repeat last season's feats but have strengthened most areas of their team, aside from the toothy silhouette shape missing up front. Mourinho forever denied that his success at Stamford Bridge first time around (or anywhere else) has been the consequence of club wealth rather than his coaching but he did acknowledge last summer: "One team built many years ago is disappearing and we're facing a new situation of financial fair play, so the club went in another direction, investing in new players to have a young squad."

Chelsea setbacks last season were used by Mourinho as an argument for a free hand for change. But given Manchester City's stumbles under a manager adjusting to the Premier League and the boss out of his depth at Old Trafford, 2013-14 was surely a missed opportunity for Mourinho. Chelsea did enough to derail Liverpool but the losses at Crystal Palace and Aston Villa, and at home to Sunderland, meant they were not able to profit themselves.

The loss of Mourinho's personal league unbeaten run at the Bridge will still sting. So too the Super Cup shoot-out defeat to Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich, after conceding an equaliser in the 120th minute. Also there's the Champions League semi-final defeat, after drawing at Atletico Madrid in the first leg, in games featuring Thibaut Courtois after UEFA's intervention. And there's even Atletico's defeat to Real in the final, handing the Portuguese's previous employers la decima that eluded him. It is a good job Mourinho does not brood over defeat, or seethe with resentment at imaginary slights.

The transfer activity has been impressive, the outs as well as the ins; getting £50m for David Luiz is astonishing. There are more than a dozen loans, most to top-flight clubs here and abroad. They have even been making up players to bolster the numbers. Did anyone expect us not to notice that the surname of 'Kenneth' Omeruo, purportedly on loan at Middlesbrough, is an anagram of O Romeu, with Oriol sent for the season to Stuttgart?

The quintet brought in all have class, and in Cesc Fabregas and the returning Didier Drogba plenty of Premier League experience. (By the way, please shoot anyone calling the returning Ivorian a 'prodigal son', just because he is back; prodigal means wasteful, not something similar to prodigious). Diego Costa and Filipe Luis were stellar in Atletico Madrid's Primera Liga triumph and so nearly added the Champions League, despite the injury that meant Costa should not really have played the eight minutes that he did. Thibaut Courtois can be added to the list of additions, and again was a massive influence for Atletico during his loan. The midfielder Mario Pasalic, bought from Hajduk Split for £2.4m, has been loaned straight out to Elche, but it is no surprise the SSN poll on the subject suggested that Chelsea had made the best deals of the leading five.

Chelsea kick off with two matches against promoted sides, away to Burnley on Monday night and then at home to Leicester. The tea-time trip to Everton on the last Saturday of the month, a match lost last September, is a serious test, with Romelu Lukaku now available to face his former club. After the international break, there are home games with Swansea and Aston Villa sandwiching the visit to Manchester City. (One oddity of all this is that three of Chelsea's first six matches are 3pm Saturday kick-offs; City have two, Arsenal and Manchester United one, Liverpool none. Expect Mourinho to cite television bias at some point.)

All the leading quintet have their strengths, none entirely convinces. Asked to predict who the top four will be and the correct order, I was unsure who to plump for so pretty much stick a pin in it, from among the leading five. The one piece of deliberation was to put Chelsea second, not with conviction but because there will be a certain justice in Mourinho almost winning the title, just as he almost did in May, just as he almost reached the Champions League final, six years after he derided three-times-in-a-season runner-up Avram Grant as an almost man.

If it comes to pass, I am sure Mourinho will take it well.

Philip Cornwall

No bias in that piece, eh Phil? You might as well have titled it "Line up here to poke Chelsea with a stick."
- uvamacerbam

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