People have drawn comparisons between this Chelsea squad and Mourinho’s first Chelsea squad, and there are some: A physical, dynamic center forward, a hit squad of pacy, intelligent and dynamic attacking midfielders, a gigantic midfield enforcer, a settled back 4, and a young keeper who is also one of the top 3 in the world right now.
However the similarities end there.
Chelsea 2014/2015 Squad Dynamics
Mourinho’s first Chelsea squad was essentially a bludgeon, a war hammer, that could just grind teams down and wear them out. It wasn’t pretty, but it was consistent, and it got results. No team could outfight Chelsea, outlast them, outjump them, or outrun them. It relied on raw power to defend and attack. This Chelsea side rely more on speed, trickery and fluid interchange of positions when attacking, and high-intensity pressing at pace in defense – the scalpel as opposed to the hammer.
While the current version may not be as defensively ruthless as the first Mourinho Chelsea side, it is still menacing, just in its own way. This season so far, Chelsea has kept 17 clean sheets, and conceded 27 goals, the fewest in the league. In attack, they are the second highest scoring team, with only Manchester City ahead of them in that regard. And they accomplished this while only using 22 players, the fewest of any team in the premier league.
Mourinho doesn’t rotate or change often, and once he has a settled side, he sticks with it. But here too lies the problem this season, that perhaps this squad burned out, as the same players were being used too often. The Champions League exit against PSG, particularly the second leg, saw the players looking drained even before the game had reached half time. It was lethargic, slow, plodding.
Elimination from the competition helped the players rest more, as there were now fewer games. While Chelsea took strides to add to both the starting XI and the depth, more players are needed in the summer to add more depth and dimension to the squad. This is particularly the case for the central midfield and attacking midfield positions. Chelsea shipped off Salah and Schurrle in January, and brought in Cuadrado for 30 million pounds.
Thus far, I have not been impressed by Cuadrado, and his limited game time suggest Mourinho doesn’t trust him yet either. Oscar was brilliant in the first half of the season, as always, and then promptly stopped being good once January rolled around. We need more quality depth here, so that injuries, fatigue or suspensions don’t cripple our attack, especially given that the side is heavily reliant on Hazard. In central midfield, quality cover is needed for both Fabregas and Matic – players who can both defend competently and distribute the ball with accuracy and ambition. Ramires is better in a 3 man midfield as a box-to-box player, and is hampered by the 2 man midfield pivot, though he is useful cover.
Mikel is a good defensive option, but the lack of appearances this season suggests he might be on his way out this summer. This does not mean a shopping spree, but rather a few shrewd acquisitions to tweak the squad.
One thing that still bothered me this season was that we struggled to score goals when we shouldn’t have. One cause of this is simply that our players can’t finish chances. Hazard or Fabregas might create brilliant chances, but no one can finish them. The other is that our attacking players just don’t shoot the ball enough. I’m reminded here of the winning goal Willian scored against Everton, in stoppage time.
Willian has a great shot, but rarely uses it. Ditto for both Oscar. Hazard shoot probably be shooting more as well, though he scores different kinds of goals. Too often the squad tries to walk the ball into the net when they could just shoot the ball when in a good goal scoring position.
A final thought here, and this will be really cheesy, but Chelsea players just seem to be at home here. I don’t know if that is the case for other teams, but watching them play, watching them in the media, watching Mourinho in interviews, you get the feeling that everyone at the club is there because they love the crest on their shirt, they love the club, they love the fans. Mourinho looks so at ease now, because he is home, he is at his club, the club he was meant for, and he has the backing of everyone.
The players love it here, and haven’t set their eyes on other pastures, because Chelsea is a place to be, it is a place to belong. And I love that this culture still exists, that new players have to in a sense buy into the the club and what it means, and I hope that continues.