Chelsea put in another solid, unspectacular performance against Hull to keep their recent impressive run of form going. The thing is, Mourinho probably couldn’t have picked a more attacking side. So why can’t this talented Chelsea side blow out the weaker teams?
Chelsea kept their eighth clean sheet of the season at the KC Stadium in Saturday’s early kick off against Hull. This ranks them joint second in the league, leaving them behind Arsenal, Spurs, Everton and West Ham(!). Last season they kept 14 by the end of the season so it would be reasonable to suggest that this side are set up to overhaul that mark. Let’s not forget amongst all of this that the often overlooked Petr Cech overhauled Peter Bonneti’s club record of 208 clean sheets, a truly exceptional achievement.
Now, I know clean sheets are a pretty arbitrary stat. They don’t account for big losses and you can expect a top defensive side to keep clean sheets against Hull and Southampton. However, Chelsea have conceded the second least goals in the league (19), with only Arsenal faring better, and they have played one less game. This includes a two-game stretch where Chelsea conceded six goals in two games against Sunderland and Stoke. Chelsea have since conceded one goal in five league games. Mourinho finally looks like he’s getting his way.
What this doesn’t show is that all but three of Chelsea’s league games this season have been decided by a two-goal margin, with most of their wins (6) coming by a single goal. Man City on the other hand have a relatively even spread in this category: winning four games by one goal, four games by two, three by three, one by four and an impressive two games by five or more goals. Arsenal have won a massive nine games by two goals. Mourinho’s Chelsea sides either aren’t capable or aren’t interested in blowing sides out of the water, and my gut goes with the latter explanation, considering the personnel available.
Now many fans will point towards the strikers at this stage, and that is fair. But Mourinho’s previous sides seldom blew sides out and that was with Didier Drogba up top, and whatever you say the service he got was not much worse than the talented selection now lining up for the Blues.
So far, so Mourinho. The Portuguese manager has a reputation for building well drilled teams that don’t concede many goals. You can tell just by his body language that the man simply hates conceding, whether its a soft one from a set piece or a wonder goal from 30 yards, it makes no difference to Jose, he hates them both equally.
The marked difference between this side and Mourinho’s first though is personnel. Chelsea’s starting line up against Hull looked extremely positive, and the main reason for this, fairly or unfairly, was because it was chock full of Brazilians.
A ‘holding’ midfield duo of the dynamic but often sloppy passer Ramires and the lovable rouge David Luiz is anything but conservative. Neither actually sat against Hull, Luiz loves to spring forward and play the killer pass and Ramires likes to break into space with the ball at his feet. In front of them were Oscar, the increasingly impressive Willian and Braz-elgian Eden Hazard, who is quite simply playing out of his skin at the moment. I mean, he has always been great, but he seems to be going from strength to strength this season under Mourinho.
Their presence was obvious watching the Hull game. Hazard simply ran past half the Hull backline to open the scoring. There was a steady sprinkling of flicks and backheels in the final third throughout the game, including one from Ashley Cole in the build up to Hazard’s goal. As an aside, Cole was responsible for two of the best moments in the game, that flick and a sumptuous scoop pass which eventually led to Oscar’s rasping half volley being saved by Alan McGregor.
All of of this, on paper, would point to an electric Chelsea side ready to rout the likes of Hull, even away from home. This just isn’t the case though. Chelsea often look laboured under Mourinho, second best with the ball and only capable of playing on the break. Yet this is how he is happy to set his side up. A solid base, no over-reliance on ball retention and individuals capable of changing a game. It is the same side again, just with more Brazilians than Africans and with Eden Hazard not Arjen Robben.
Some Chelsea fans, heck even Roman himself might be getting a little taste of deja vu as Chelsea keep putting together low scoring wins in what is becoming a solid title charge. This, if the less fickle of us can remember, is exactly what caused such complaint during the last Mourinho tenure. The fact is Mourinho’s sides are solid, not boring. Maybe all he needed last time were a few Samba stars to help change that impression.