After Chelsea’s 2-1 defeat to Basle in the Champions League on Wednesday evening, there has been much discussion and debate surrounding the style of football José Mourinho is so passionately defending. “It is just not the same” they say. Well of course it is not the same. Mourinho has a drastically different profile of player at his disposal to the squad in which he won six trophies with between 2004 and 2007. He is trying to find the right players to fit into the right system. In time, the results will prove whether or not his second spell will be as notably successful as his first. It would be prudent to reserve judgment on Mourinho’s second spell until at least May. Playing devils advocate though, just how does Mourinho’s current squad compare to the side he led to back-to-back Premier League titles in 2005 and 2006.
Between 2004 and 2007, Chelsea won two Premier League titles, two League Cup’s, an FA Cup and a Community Shield. They were unfortunate to miss out on the Champions League as well, losing two semi-finals to Liverpool. That side was characterised by a tough, uncompromising desire to win at all costs. Almost impenetrable at the back, they regularly took the lead in games and coasted to victory. The defensive unit was as solid and reliable as any living memory. Petr Cech was at his peak, rarely caught out and excellent at everything. John Terry was also in his prime, a domineering presence who attacked the ball with ferocity and Ricardo Carvalho complemented him brilliant. If Terry was beaten, the Portuguese international would invariably sweep up the situation. William Gallas had the most consistent spell of his career as a left-back in Mourinho’s first two years and Paolo Ferreira was a steady influence at right-back.
‘Power’ is the word most frequently used word when describing the midfield. Michael Essien, Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele complimented each other perfectly. In front of the back four, Makelele was such am inspiring presence, they even named a position after him. He read the game expertly, was rarely caught in possession and did the unseen defensive work. The protection he offered the back four allowed the attacking players to flourish. Essien was a dynamic, box to box midfielder who stamped his authority on big games and Frank Lampard had just began to master the art of scoring goals with his late runs into the box.
On the wings, Damien Duff and Arjen Robben were electric, interchanging and running terrifying fullbacks. And then there was Didier Drogba. Probably the most complete centre forward in world football alongside Thierry Henry at the time, he prospered in Mourinho’s direct style. The key cog to Mourinho’s well oiled machine was the spine of the side. Cech, Terry, Lampard and Drogba would remain (and in the latter there’s case, still are) an integral part of the Chelsea team for years to come.
The current Chelsea side is less about power and more about precision. Mourinho and the club clearly have a vision for a more possession based game, where they dominate and control games. Cech is still a calming influence in goal, but the back four has seen some changes. Ashley Cole, signed by Mourinho in 2006, still occupies the left back position. John Terry, Gary Cahill and David Luiz rotate at the heart of the defence, with Branislav Ivanovic at right-back.
The defensive unit is clearly not quite as strong at the moment as the class of 2005/2006, the partnership of Luiz and Cahill is getting better game on game. The midfield is primarily filled with offensive, creative players. In fact, all of the starting five midfield players who took to the field against Basle (Ramires, Lampard, Oscar, Hazard and Willian) would be considered attack minded players. This caused a problem, as there was not sufficient cover for the back four.
One obvious flaw in this version of Mourinho’s Chelsea is definitely up front. While the 2006 vintage had Drogba, the 2013 side lacks an outstanding centre-forward. Fernando Torres has never delivered anything close to his Liverpool form. Demba Ba was on the verge of leaving on loan towards the end go the transfer window and Mourinho clearly doesn’t see him as his first choice. Samuel Eto’o was an outstanding player three years ago, but he looks woefully short on sharpness and match fitness. That will probably come in time, but it may be too late in the season for it to matter. Romelu Lukaku, the man whom many would see as the long term starting striker at Stamford Bridge, is currently on koan at Everton. He may be the successor to Drogba, if he can emerge from his shadow.
While it is difficult to compare two different teams with contrasting styles, I have attempted to pick a eleven, based on the best players who fits into Mourinho’s 4-3-3. Cech, Cole, Terry, Carvalho, Ivanovic, Makelele, Essien, Lampard, Hazard, Robben, Drogba. A pretty decent side, but one that features players almost entirely made up from Mourinho’s first tenure. It will be interesting to revisit this debate in the distant future and see how history judges Mourinho’s current pretenders against the champion side of 2004 to 2007.