Chelsea FC (4-3-3) Cech, Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry, Gallas, Makelele, Essien/Tiago, Lampard, Robben, Duff, Drogba/Gudjohnsen
Jose Mourinho made his name by winning the 2004 Champions League with FC Porto. The next step in his career would come at Chelsea, where he would win various domestic crowns, creating the greatest team in the club’s history.
In Mourinho’s first season at the club, Chelsea won the Premier League title with a record total of 95 points. While Arsenal’s Invincibles side of 2003-2004 are often considered the greatest Premier League side of all time, it must be remembered that Chelsea only lost one game in the 2004-2005 season. This sole defeat came away at Manchester City, a 1-0 loss in which Nicolas Anelka converted a controversial penalty. And although it may be argued that this side played defensive soccer and that Mourinho had a fantastic side, this Chelsea outfit were the ultimate results-based team. They conceded just 15 goals in 38 games that season, which remains the Premier League record. Nowadays, most teams are unable to go through the first half of the season conceding this many. In the 2005-2006, Chelsea arguably had a better team, and defended the Premier League title. While their points total was lower than the previous season and they lost three more games, they still won 18 out of their 19 games at Stamford Bridge. Here are some key features of the side.
The importance of the 4-3-3
At this time, most teams in the Premier League played the classic 4-4-2 formation. By playing a 4-3-3, Mourinho always had an extra man in midfield. Here are Mourinho’s words on the midfield advantage:
“Look, if I have a triangle in midfield – Claude Makelele behind and two others just in front – I will always have an advantage against a pure 4-4-2 where the central midfielders are side by side. That’s because I will always have an extra man. It starts with Makelele, who is between the lines. If nobody comes to him he can see the whole pitch and has time. If he gets closed down it means one of the two other central midfielders is open. If they are closed down and the other team’s wingers come inside to help, it means there is space now for us on the flank, either for our own wingers or for our full-backs. There is nothing a pure 4-4-2 can do to stop things,” said the Portuguese tactician.
Furthermore, Chelsea had two strikers who assisted the attacking runs of Frank Lampard in rather different ways. Didier Drogba, who was still a bit raw at the time, was able to hold the ball up and feed layoffs to on-running midfielders. Drogba would carry the attention of the two center-backs, providing space for the extra man in midfield to come forward. Chelsea also had Eidur Gudjohnsen who almost played as an extra midfielder, as he dropped deep and linked play. This also allowed Chelsea’s midfielders to push forward, and often created a 4-3-1-2 formation. Other times, Gudjohnsen played in midfield alongside Lampard, creating a sort of 4-1-4-1 formation. This also worked well, with Lampard performing very well, being the club’s top scorer in Mourinho’s first two seasons at the club.
Another key feature of Chelsea’s play was the wing play of Arjen Robben and Damien Duff. They played as inverted wingers (Duff from the left, Robben from the right), and with their lung-busting energy, played a key role in Chelsea’s lightning-quick counter-attacks. By cutting inside, the wingers created space for the fullbacks to come forward on the overlap.
Tiago vs Essien
One of the key differences between the Chelsea side of 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 was of the difference between Tiago and Michael Essien. In Mourinho’s first season, Tiago arrived from Benfica. He played as a superb link in the midfield, scoring a memorable goal against Manchester United from long range. The following season, Chelsea splashed 26 million euros on Michael Essien to strengthen the midfield. With Makelele and Lampard established in Chelsea’s midfield, Essien took Tiago’s spot. “The Bison” was at his best back then, as a superb box-to-box midfielder, capable of fulfilling defensive responsibilities and smashing shots in from long range. Later, Mourinho admitted that letting Tiago leave was one of his biggest mistakes.
Chelsea’s squad did not have the most numbers, but in terms of quality in positions, the side excelled. Carlo Cudicini provided competition to Petr Cech in goal, Wayne Bridge to William Gallas for fullback slots, and the most intriguing battle was for the two wide spots. Damien Duff, Arjen Robben, Joe Cole, and Shaun Wright-Phillips all competed for these spots. Robben, at his best, was a firm starter. Often, Duff and Cole competed for spots in the side. Cole was an interesting player. Once thought as the “English Messi”, much of the country’s hope in the future rested upon him. He was more highly-rated than Lampard, yet Lampard went on to achieve a lot more. As a tricky attacking player, many accuse Mourinho of taking away Cole’s freedom through the defensive work he had to do in the side. Others will say that Cole played his best football under Mourinho (which is also true). He ended up scoring a superb goal in the 3-0 victory over Manchester United, which saw Chelsea defend their title in 2005-2006.
The strength at the back
At the heart of this Chelsea team were two of the greatest center-backs in the world – John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho. Terry, at the time, was in a better peak physical condition, with more pace. His reading of the game has improved over time, however, and Carvalho often covered for Terry. Carvalho was essentially a much better version of David Luiz – a rather quick center-back at the time, who had no problems with pushing forward. He was superb defensively too, as were the two fullbacks. Gallas was solid at left-back, while Paulo Ferreira epitomized ‘solidity’. Far from the showy attacking fullbacks on show today, Ferreira was solid defensively, and in the words of Mourinho, “always put in a 7/10 performance”. Cech was arguably at his best in this time, as many say he has not been the same goalkeeper ever since his head injury. With the covering of Makelele, sitting deep and giving freedom to the rest of the side, the Chelsea defense prospered.
All in all, this Chelsea side contained many brilliant players, many of which spent many glorious seasons at the club. The likes of Carvalho, Lampard, Ferreira and Essien were all fantastic servants of the club. Cech, Terry and Drogba remain today – showing the strength in leadership of the side. From 2004-2006, Chelsea won two Premier League titles and the League Cup. In 2006-2007, the side won a domestic cup double. While they narrowly failed to reach the Champions League final, this side contained many of the players seen in the 2012 winning side. The current Chelsea side have received much praise for their results this season, but they must do a lot more to be considered better than the Chelsea team from a decade ago.
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