Perhaps the most surprising thing about Jose Mourinho’s reaction to Chelsea’s Champions League defeat by Basel was how calm he appeared. In front of the Sky cameras, moments after being stunned by the Swiss outfit his group of multi-million pound stars would have expected to beat, he delivered his verdict serenely and soberly, almost as if he saw the defeat coming.
Trying to imprint his own identity onto a squad that finished last season with just a single defeat in the last eleven games on top of winning the Europa League was always going to take longer than the five games he has overseen so far. Not to mention the £65 million worth of talent he has swelled that squad with this summer, further adding to the options he Portuguese has to sift through in order to settle on a desired system.
It would have taken a grand dose of delusion to believe Mourinho, as excellent in the dugout as he may be, would hit the ground running and it was up to him as the dust settled on Wednesday night’s surprising events to add a dash of realism to the gathering clouds of scepticism.
In the build up to Wednesday night’s game, Mourinho hinted back to his first spell in London and the “eggs” analogy he used to voice his frustration before the match against Rosenborg, which turned out to be his last.
Now he has “beautiful, young eggs” that “need a dad to keep them warm through the winter”, a quote that was undermined by a team that had an average age of 28 on Wednesday though Mourinho will fully understand the point he was trying to make. It is a squad in need of nurturing to the Mourinho way and it is very much a work not so much in progress, but one that has barely started.
As the Portuguese spoke effusively into the Sky cameras just minutes after his team had trudged off the pitch in disbelief, he would have been interested in the identity of one of the members of the channel’s punditry team.
Waiting to analyse the defeat was Michael Ballack, whom Mourinho signed for his Chelsea team back in 2006 and how he could have done with his sheer power and dynamism here. Or anybody of that ilk in fact; Michael Essien, Claude Makelele, Tiago Mendes, Geremi, Maniche, any of the workhorses that made Mourinho’s midfield so fearsome the first time round.
His first title winning side of 2004-05 was a carefully-crafted machine, oiled efficiently to the extent it secured the title with just 1 defeat and 15 goals conceded. A league record that was founded on a solid defence just as much as the character and diligence of the midfield that was shielding it. Typical Mourinho, finding a goal lead before sending Tiago on to protect it.
This time it is different. At Mourinho’s disposal is a squad he is not quite used to. In the likes of Andre Schurrle, Willian, Marco Van Ginkel, Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, Christian Atsu, Oscar, De Bruyne, Chelsea are drenched in attacking verve and guile but lacking in presence and defensive muscle.
It was a midfield base of Frank Lampard and Van Ginkel, neither of whom are reliable reinforcers, that had no answer to Basel’s slick passing move that allowed Mohamed Salah to sweep home the equaliser. Mourinho threw on John Obi Mikel three minutes later for added protection but by then it was too late.
Marco Streller would power home a near-post header from a corner to win the game, an irony that would not have been lost on Mourinho as he surveyed the aftermath. Chelsea may have had double the amount of shots but Basel had a big, bold forward who could bash the ball into the net from a set-piece. It could have been just enough to evoke memories of Didier Drogba, the battering-ram of the all-conquering first-coming of Mourinho, but that has disappeared.
In Samuel Eto’o, they not only have a forward who has been labouring away in the most desolately obscure of eastern Russia for the past two years, but one that is lacking in cutting edge and ruthlessness.
Oscar’s first half strike against Basel was just Chelsea’s fifth so far this season and although it may rightly be argued they could have easily been 5-0 winners at Everton on Saturday evening, it is clear that while they possess an abundance of art and craft, they are missing the efficient finishing that typified Mourinho’s previous era.
Whilst the priority used to be to keep it watertight at the back before nicking a goal with a single foray up the field through the Robben-Duff-Drogba axis, Chelsea’s current array of attacking options has caused a reverse problem; plenty of aesthetics and creation, but not enough tangible reward in terms of goals. It has made the decision to send Romelu Lukaku, a direct heir to Drogba’s rugged centre-forward spot, out on loan even more baffling than it was initially.
The summer’s intense chasing of Wayne Rooney, now enjoying a hot streak of form at Manchester United, suggests Mourinho was after somebody who could add a clinical, direct touch to all the invention that is flowing through Mourinho’s squad. His teams have always been driven by a regular, predatory source of goals and he will certainly address that issue come January.
January of course is yet a few months away but Mourinho will remain assured that there is no need to rush a project that is still in its infancy. After all, the match with Basel was Wilian’s first in a Chelsea shirt while Eto’o and Van Ginkel’s made just their second appearances for a club that, as its Portuguese coach has been constantly reiterating, is in transition.
His composure and the tranquil manner of how he answered the questions post-Basel on Wednesday suggests he understands just how patient this transition will have to be.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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