As long-time readers will probably be aware, I am not a huge personal admirer of Jose Mourinho.
A lot has been made of Manuel Pellegrini’s decision to deploy Martin Demichelis alongside Yaya Toure in central midfield, and it was indeed a big mistake – but in sport, mistakes only really register if someone is around to punish them, and that’s exactly what Mourinho did.
His lung-bursting midfield selection was a contrast from the attacking onslaught that had dominated West Ham, but failed to put away a winning goal. This time, he set up the likes of Willian, Ramires, Matic, Luiz and even Mikel to run and run and run - and they ran City ragged.
They not only left Demichelis chasing shadows, but were able to expose the deficiencies of the normally world-class Yaya Toure, isolate wingers Jesus Navas and David Silva in a Chelsea-swamped midfield and leave strikers Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo at the mercy of an in-form back line.
But as good as the 90-minute performance was, the true evil genius of Mourinho’s approach to such a crucial game in the Premier League title race was how, like in the legendary movie The Usual Suspects, he had convinced fans and media alike that this particular devil did not exist.
In this instance, the devil was in the detail of his plot to do what nobody else could do and completely neutralise City’s hot shots on their own turf.
While dropping two points to their London rivals last week was by no means part of Mourinho’s plan, it’s fair to speculate that his mind was on the City clash prior to that game and perhaps even a couple of matches before that.
And when he trudged into the press conference and fumed about the Hammers’ ‘19th century football’, he not only contradicted a host of games in charge of various clubs where he had employed the same strategy, but appeared to be mentally frazzled by a chortling Sam Allardyce.
As it turns out, perhaps his post-match rants were sacrificing a pawn in order to take the queen.
Did Pellegrini feel as though he was safe to opt for Demichelis and such a flat approach compared to previous matches, so long as his big-money pair up top broke the deadlock and with it, Jose’s spirit?
Maybe. Only Manuel can confirm this, but it’s the chief theory as to how he, his side and almost the entire footballing world were conned into thinking Chelsea would show them and their goalscoring feats respect on Monday night.
I use the phrase ‘show them respect’ as a deliberate alternative to ‘parking the bus’, because quite frankly I despise that term. To defend robustly is not ‘parking the bus’, it’s a completely fair tactic in football which pretty much pays the opposing side the ultimate compliment – that you fear the likelihood of being put to the sword if you try to engage in an open game.
The fact Mourinho was able to find a way of doing just that, however, in an effective and entertaining manner having convinced almost everyone otherwise before the game, shows that with Sir Alex Ferguson now retired, ‘The Special One’ is now the one true king of the ‘mind games’ jungle.
While I fancy City to learn from their naivety and grow even stronger at home after suffering that rare breach, it looks as though Mourinho is already preparing his next masterplan.
After seeing off one of his closest title rivals on the road, Mourinho continued to baffle in post-match pressers by claiming that his side are merely ‘a little horse learning to jump’ in their ‘three-horse race’ with two thoroughbred title rivals.
Experience certainly played a factor in the Monday game, but it was all Chelsea’s. Such a claim was as ridiculous as his bemoaning of defensive tactics, but don’t be fooled.
He will have had the return to the Etihad on February 15 in the FA Cup fifth round on his mind – not to mention the big March arrival of current league leaders Arsenal to Stamford Bridge – when he began his latest cunning verbal ploy with the ‘little horse’ comments.
While I’m not yet convinced Chelsea will definitely win this exciting race to the top of the Premier League mountain, someone is certainly going to have to address ‘Keyser Jose’ and his riddles if they are going to stop him guiding the Blues to the title in his first season in charge for a second time.
- Sports & Recreation
- Jose Mourinho
- Yaya Toure
- Martin Demichelis
- Manuel Pellegrini
- Manchester City