Much has been made of Chelsea’s slow start to the campaign. Stuttering wins over Hull and Aston Villa, together with a draw against Manchester United and a loss to Everton have hardly had the impact Jose Mourinho made during his first spell in charge. But things are different now than they were before. This post will compare further the two Chelsea sides in very different eras…
On paper, the Chelsea of 2013 looks like it is much better than the Chelsea of 2005. The trio of Hazard, Mata and Oscar would comfortable outskill the often unpredictable and over-elaborate Joe Cole and Arjen Robben. Likewise, the left-back position has been much improved, with Ashley Cole one of Chelsea’s stand-out performers over the last few years.
But the rest is open to discussion. The 2005 partnership of Carvalho and Terry was praised as one of the game’s most solid, but with Luiz and Cahill comes strength at set-pieces, but vulnerability when tasked with their job to defend. Gallas added that extra line of defence whereas Azpilicueta is more known for his attacking proficiencies.
Meanwhile, Lampard and Cech are still present, but that bit older. Drogba is no more and Torres is no capable substitute. Ramires and Essien offer different qualities from their midfield berth.
So are we in a better position now? The 2005-2006 Chelsea lost only one game in the opening 26 matches. Chelsea have lost the same number in just four. Is this indicative of worse players than before, or a team yet to fully gel? I suspect the latter.
The man at the helm has returned but there has been some structural changes beneath him. Steve Clarke has made his way to management at West Brom, so too Andre Villas-Boas at Tottenham and Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool. The trio, as Assistant Coach, Chief Scout and Youth Coach respectively, had a massive influence in matters and are making sound progress at their new clubs.
Chelsea have had to replace them. Adi Viveash is the new Youth Team Manager, Jose Morais is the new AVB whilst Steve Clarke’s shoes have been filled by a combination of Rui Faria and Steve Holland.
It is an interesting mix of Mourinho’s team and Chelsea’s pre-existing team, but whether they have the knowledge to see out bad periods together is another thing. The fact AVB, Rodgers and Clarke have made the step up proves their were all competent managers even as Mourinho’s assistants. Would Holland, Faria or Morais be able to make the step up? Do they add much individually or are they more useful as Mourinho’s slaves? What happens when Mourinho himself is stuck on ideas? I imagine there will be less initiative.
The Big Four of Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea has long gone. There has been a shift, but more dauntingly an enlargement, of top teams in the league that many regard as the world’s best. Genuine title contenders may be limited to the three in Chelsea and the two Manchester teams, but other teams such as Tottenham and Everton are more than knocking on the door. Arsenal does not have the presence of eight years ago but seemingly always makes it into the Top Four, whilst Liverpool are vying to return to their glory days.
It is a large hunting pack and new competitors have joined the challenge of the spaces at the top. Whilst Arsenal may not possess Henry or Bergkamp anymore, they do have quality in Carzola and, lately, Ozil. Together with youth in Wilshere and Ramsey, they have the makings of a fine side — for the future.
Manchester United continue to be stronger than ever but there is great reason to believe there has been a decline from 2005. Sir Alex Ferguson is no longer manager, and the likes of Ronaldo have departed. Rooney is still fantastic but is overshadowed by the incredible Robin Van Persie, who more than makes up for the 2005 talisman in Ruud van Nistelrooy. Are they weaker now? They certainly have not gotten stronger.
It had been United and Chelsea ruling the league with Arsenal’s influence diminishing, but Manchester City decided to ruin the party. There need to little comparison between the 2005 City and the City of the present, who are far superior now and could only settle for 15th position in the 2005/2006 season. They were never a contender during Mourinho’s first reign but now poses another very serious threat.
But with one addition comes another loss. Liverpool were third in 2005/2006 but have slipped massively over the last few years. Losses of Hyypia, Carragher and Torres makes them less of a threat for Mourinho to contend with now, but the likes of Sturridge and Suarez still makes them one to consider.
So what can we say about the competitors? There is definitely more to be scared of — where Arsenal and Liverpool have dropped off, so City have taken their space. And if Chelsea cannot fight for the Number One spot this campaign, then there is a whole host of clubs fighting for the Top Four positions.
Chelsea’s first four games in 2005/06 brought four wins, despite seemingly more difficult opponents than the first four matches of this campaign. Full points was taken from Wigan, Arsenal, West Brom and Tottenham eight years ago, whilst only seven could be squeezed out of Hull, Aston Villa, Manchester United and Everton.
What can be deduced from that? Maximum points from West Brom and Wigan were to be expected in 2005, but Arsenal and Tottenham were still strong back then and represent confident wins.
As for now, Hull is one of the promoted sides whilst Villa’s demise has been saddening. A draw at Old Trafford is a point to be pleased with, but a new Everton side should not have posed too much threat.
Jose Mourinho’s famed fast start is being tested. The Blues have only scored four goals in these opening four matches, compared with eight in 2005/06. Drogba and Gudjohnsen in their prime are proving to be much better than the Torres and Ba of now.
Only in today’s (Tuesday) press conference previewing the Champions League opener against Basel tomorrow did Mourinho talk about his ambitions for this tenure. To quote Mourinho, “the first objective of this team has to be a process which ends with an identity, a philosophy and a style of play”.
The Chelsea of 2005 had the aim of eradicating the belief that they were perennial underachievers. They needed success. Now this Chelsea team, who is accustomed to success, needs to take a step back and identify what the footballing plan is for this new era. It will take time. The emphasis on winning is less strong, despite one’s desires still at maximum level. The profile of players suggest a nurturing manager is needed, whereas the personalities of 2005 wanted instant success.
Times are changing. Mourinho is not having a disaster, but to his usual standards, the first four matches could have been more convincing. The chances are there. The finishing is not. This 2013 side should be better than 2005. But a mixture of factors, mainly the emergence of new challengers and a better league overall, has meant success second time round will be harder to come by. Roman Abramovich better be patient.