While everybody is raving about the competitiveness of this Premier League season, it is entirely possible a single team will run away with the league still, as half the fixtures remain to be played. That side is Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. Call it cynical or anti-football, but what Mourinho is doing again at Chelsea is setting up his team to maximize results, while annoying neutrals in the process. In this era of English self-loathing and obsession with style, Mourinho’s willingness to buck conventional norms must be considered refreshing, though his self-promoting narcissism prevents us from fully embracing him as a counter-revolutionary figure.
Chelsea has won all but two of the matches against the top seven sides at Stamford Bridge. If Chelsea are not conceding goals and are keeping their shape away from home, it is difficult to see where they will drop enough points to keep an untested side like Arsenal and a mistake-prone side like Manchester City around.
Mourinho instinctively is a defensive manager. He attempted to bend to the personnel he inherited after years of binge buying by Chelsea of largely repetitive attacking players. After a few months of frustration and quite frankly lots of good fortune, Chelsea find themselves right near the top and have adapted new tactics designed not to entertain but to win trophies.
Programming note: For viewers in the United States, the match between Chelsea and Liverpool will be shown live at 11am ET on Sunday on NBCSN and Telemundo.
Given Jose Mourinho’s record in setting up deep, absorbing pressure but winning important matches, who would bet against him? Mourinho’s tactical adjustment also potentially means the opposition has to be nearly perfect to beat the Blues for the league title this season. Manchester City for example cannot let leads slip again against the likes of Cardiff City or Aston Villa. Arsenal cannot drop points at home to the likes of Everton again.
The Blues change in tactics has potentially turned the title race completely. As a neutral, my hope would be that Liverpool, perhaps one of only two sides that can get behind Chelsea when playing this way, pinch a victory tomorrow at the Bridge. This would force a Mourinho rethink again. Anything short of that, and we may see the Blues playing out the season with drab, lifeless football that gives them a comfortable Premier League title by let’s say five to eight points.
English Football itself might better off without Mourinho’s negative tactics and his constant whining. But unfortunately for non-Chelsea fans, he is poised to have the last laugh this time.
Editor’s note: For the latest Blues news, analysis and opinion, visit the Chelsea team page.