It is difficult and would be foolish to make a judgement on Mourinho’s return just two weeks into the season, but at first glance, the signs are mightily promising.
Progress, in football terms, most definitely is measured by the results on the field, and though we have seen wins, draws and losses in this hectic August month already, the Mourinho genes are surely coming through to the players.
The games have worked out perfectly, with the opponents getting progressively more difficult with each game. A start against a side who were in a lower league last season was followed by a side well declined from a few years ago; two wins were to be expected. Then came the big jump to playing the champions of England, before last night’s battle against the champions of Europe.
It is these steady and well-rounded August fixtures that allow fans to dissect Mourinho’s second coming. Below are three aspects of Chelsea’s game which Mourinho has altered thus far:
1. Hazard works a lot more
Mourinho, to quote, is “not the kind of guy who makes life easy for the great players… this kind of player is the last I praise”. Joe Cole will remember fondly his time with Mourinho, recalling that “he used to get on my back so much but I can’t thank him enough for it”.
And where Joe Cole was regarded a massive young star last time, the focal man is no doubt Eden Hazard. Last season, strong performances were alternated with periods of over-elaborate show-boating and he was largely overshadowed by Juan Mata as the star man.
With Mata still recovering from a busy summer, it has been left to Hazard to freely roam and showcase his tremendous skills. It would be easy for a young prodigy like Hazard to become over-arrogant and think his skills prevail over the good of the team, and Mourinho has no doubt set about to quash any emerging ego. The Belgian plays with a certain arrogance on the pitch but it is more than contained by Mourinho, who insists Hazard works for the team more than showing off his step-overs. His defensive input is there for all to see.
Where he could occasionally be caught being lazy last season, so Mourinho has tightened up on Hazard’s all-round abilities and the work-rate has rocketed. A dazzling run in the build-up to Torres’ goal, his own solo goal and his ceaseless huffing and puffing for 112 minutes against Bayern Munich was dazzling, full of spirit and energy. Expect a lot — this guy will deliver.
2. Lampard will play lots
The words of Mourinho that indicated he would only use the 35-year-old sparingly this season have totally gone against what has happened on the pitch. The Chelsea all-time top scorer has played every minute of every match thus far, and still had the energy to take a delightful penalty after 30 more minutes against Bayern Munich.
It is not as if Chelsea have been short of midfield options. Mikel is there, as is Marco van Ginkel, whilst Oscar can sit deeper too. In truth, as matches have gone on, it is the younger stars that have been substituted, with Lampard pushed to a more advanced role.
With his experience, and with Mourinho’s very high regarding of him, expect the midfielder to play the huge majority of the Premier League and Champions League games.
3. Chelsea can cope without Mata
Two wins, one draw, one defeat and only six goals scored may suggest Chelsea have lacked something in attack, but there have been signs that Chelsea can cope without their Player Of The Year for the last two seasons. It would be difficult to see Manchester United succeed without Robin Van Persie, or Tottenham without Gareth Bale, but Chelsea are coping well without Mata.
It cannot be argued that his presence would further boost Chelsea, but the over-reliance seen over the last two seasons has clearly taken its toll on a very energetic young man who now needs a longer break than expected.
The last two seasons has seen unsteady leadership with four managers at the helm and certain individuals, with Mata the main, have has to star without a figurehead. The figurehead is now in place so the team can shine collectively. Roll on September.