After only five Premier League games speculation around Jose Mourinho’s apparent inability to weave his magic and transform Chelsea has begun. Some have raised their eyebrows at results which include a loss 1 – 0 to Everton and a tame 0 – 0 draw with Man Utd. It’s in the Champion’s League that Mourinho is most renowned for his special touch and so losses to Bayern Munich and Basel, following on the heels of the Everton loss, poured fuel on the fire.
Critics focus upon chelsea’s worst start for ten years
So now the critics eyes are upon him as they focus upon Chelsea’s worst start to the league for ten years and have seized upon any perceived fallout with his players. last seasons player of the year, Juan Mata, certainly seems to be struggling to win Mourinho’s backing. Critics such as Chris Waddle are having their say:
When Mourinho was winning trophies at Chelsea last time around, he knew how to get results. But I think the game’s changed. Players like Hazard and Oscar need to be released to go and play, go and hurt teams … I’ve watched them this season and they seem a little rigid. It’s like they’re in a straitjacket. You don’t see Ronaldo or Messi tracking back … I can’t believe Mata can’t get into the team because he’s a man who can open doors
And even the fallible David Luiz who has suffered under Mourinho’s rotation policy has suddenly become one of The Blues ‘standout players’ and being asked if he has anything to prove to Mourinho, (Simon Johnson, The Independent).
None of this, of course, adds up to a loss of the Mourinho magic. Chelsea lie fifth in the EPL only two points off first place. Rather than losing faith in Juan Mata Mourinho seems to be working at extracting the most from his talent and urging the player to prove him wrong;
I hope he tells me on the pitch ‘you are wrong, I’m the best and I have to play every game … I would love that. I’m waiting for a professional reaction. I want him to be fantastic. I hope he can … I gave Juan the chance to play from the beginning against Aston Villa, from the beginning against Everton, 30-35 minutes against Basel .. The past is the past, what matters is now. You have to be judged for what you do now … I have my options, but the thing that I most love in football is when the players prove that I’m wrong.
Mourinho deflects criticism from his team
Mourinho’s assistant Steve Holland asks the player to ‘trust’ his manager as Simon Rice in The Independent reports;
He (Mourinho) is always pushing, pushing the players to the maximum every day … That’s evident not just in his teams, but in the individuals he’s worked with … If you look Jose’s three-year period working with Ronaldo, he’s really evolved as an individual. He’s not just a talented dribbler and runner with the ball who can score goals … He has become a top-level match-winner who wants to run in behind, make runs, threaten the goal … I don’t think that just happens. That comes with pushing, even if it’s the best … On a day-to-day basis he (Mourinho) will be pushing for signs of improvement, working to progress the individual but ultimately for the benefit of the team.
Mourinho deflects criticism from his team with claims that they are not yet playing how he wants, they are a work in progress, or in his words, “young eggs who need nurturing’. His post match comments after the Basel defeat show all the skill he is renowned for. He began with the rapport he uses to nurture strong relationships with players;
When we lose I don’t speak about the players or individuals, I speak about my responsibility … I am responsible … I’m happy with the three strikers for the rest of the season … The players are good players and good professionals, and try their best every day and every match … The happy moment will arrive
And then he creates hope for the future with an impress Formula style reframing of the bad results as temporary and specific, i.e. relating only to those two games.
We lost three points that we must get somewhere … We must get them, in Basel, or Schalke, or Bucharest, or all of them or some of them … Normally you have to win the matches at home and get a few points away. Now we must win six points at home, Schalke and Steaua, but we have also to win points away. Probably we have to go to win at Basel to compensate for the defeat today. But the objective of finishing in the top two in the group phase and to go to the next stage of the Champions League is an objective that is not lost – far from it. It’s an objective we’re going to fight for and it’s an objective that I believe very, very much that we’re going to achieve
The evidence that the Mourinho magic has deserted him is just not there
He is keen to put the league performances into context, following last weeks 2 – 0 triumph over Fulham Mourinho made his case in a typically defiant style;
After a bad start that everybody kept telling me is the worst start for about a decade, today I go to bed and look at the table and nobody is in front of us … I’ve been in football for a long time and when results are not good I’m not expecting people to speak well about our team … But I’m building a different team and the most difficult thing is first to change the philosophy. That takes a little bit of time. We are not playing especially well, the results are not especially good, but the beauty of the Premier League is that everybody loses points, so no dramas … The reality is we are there – we have 10 points. I have to say I never worked so hard as I’m doing this season with this group of player
This is really clever. He says his team is improving but look at where they are not playing at our best, raising the question of how well they’ll do when he’s got them playing. He focuses on the fallibility of other teams and raises hope that the opportunity to succeed is still there and that his side will be ready to seize it.
So the evidence that the Mourinho magic has deserted him is just not there. Five games into a Premier League season we are still at that stage where teams can rise and fall dramatically on two wins or losses. It may not be their best start but Chelsea are still well poised.
As far as I can see Mourinho remains clear on what he wants to achieve, is composed, has good rapport with his players and remains highly skilled at developing confidence, belief and mental strength. These are very encouraging signs for Chelsea fans.
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