When the transfer window closed this summer, marking the end of the period in which clubs could do their business, Jose Mourinho was amongst the most smug managers in the game.
Having cut a large portion of supposed deadwood from the books, and then successfully set about filling the gaps in the squad with world-class replacements, the transition he had spoken about during last season’s trophy-less campaign - see ‘little horse’ simile - was complete.
As was the case during the first season of his maiden stint at Chelsea boss, the immense talent displayed on the team-sheet each week has translated into equally impressive results.
Heading into the second international break Mourinho’s charges are looking more harmonious than any other side in the Premier League, and their current record of seven wins and no losses serves as a stark warning to their would-be title rivals; Chelsea are on the warpath.
Following a relatively comfortable 2-0 victory over Arsenal at the weekend comparisons are already being drawn with Arsene Wenger’s famous Invincibles of the noughties, and the summer arrivals of Diego Costa and Francesc Fabregas are looking like being the result of roughly £60million well spent.
Mourinho's well constructed squad
Whilst it’s a tad hyperbolic to predict that Chelsea are poised to finish the season unbeaten at this early stage, particularly as they still have to play Liverpool and a resurgent Manchester United twice, it’s a reasoned claim to make that the Blues have the best team residing at Stamford Bridge since the days when Mourinho patrolled the line and Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Claude Makelele and Arjen Robben were his puppets.
Arguably the most obvious area of improvement since his return to west London has been the midfield. There has been big changes to the attacking unit, sure, but the solidity in the middle of the park looks to have turned Chelsea from title hopefuls to title favourites, and given them the sort of spine which makes it almost impossible to break them down more than once in any given the game.
The midfield adjustments
This particular element of squad readjustment began in January, when Mourinho made the decision to take a gamble on bringing back a player who Chelsea had allowed to leave in 2011. The choice made by the club which resulted in Nemanja Matic joining Benfica as part of the package which saw David Luiz arrive was one that passed under the radar, but the call to bring him back has been every bit as influential regarding the club’s fortunes as any Mourinho has ever made.
The Serbian enforcer wasn’t ready for Premier League football prior to his exit three years ago, and so fans were never aware of what they were missing during his sabbatical in Portugal. With Frank Lampard still pulling the strings and interchanging cameos from John Obi Mikel, Michael Essien and Raul Meireles providing protection in front of the back four the midfield wasn’t to be sneered at.
Of course on reflection it pales in comparison to the selection pool Mourinho now has to choose from. Matic’s homecoming has given Chelsea a Patrick Vieira-esque bruiser who maintains his discipline at all times, and his aptitude for holding the fort has given Fabregas license to roam and destroy through precision passes in a manner not too dissimilar to Andres Iniesta at Barcelona.
Their partnership brings us nicely onto the crux of this piece, and a theory which has been steadily doing the rounds since the summer; Mourinho’s ideal midfield trio.
The perfect trio
With Matic and Fabregas having proven themselves more than capable of turning over teams through their respective defensive and attacking prowesses, perhaps the only player Chelsea’s starting XI needs is the type who can seamlessly link up the two. One who can do both jobs when called upon, and one who has a presence that enables the Blues to boast a midfield triumvirate of world-class status and ability.
At the moment Chelsea often rely on Oscar occupying the role behind the lone striker, with Fabregas sitting deep alongside Matic, though it is in a more advanced role that the aforementioned Spaniard is at his most effective.
Not to detract from Oscar, but Fabregas’s traits are tailor-made for slotting passes behind opposition defensive lines at close quarters, and though he’s prospered so far as the Blues have dominated their opening fixtures, his ability to defend against top quality attackers hasn’t had an opportunity to be scrutinised.
It’s no coincidence that Mourinho is thought to have his heart set on luring Paul Pogba to Stamford Bridge; the France international is the type of player who is perfect for the role serving as the intermediary between Matic and Fabregas. At the moment the only individual on the Blues’ books who is a genuine fit is Ramires, yet the Brazilian’s days could be numbered.
The 27-year-old is an effective tool for Chelsea and, much in the same vein as Park ji-Sung for Sir Alex Ferguson, his incredible stamina means that he is a constant thorn in the sides of those he’s playing against. However he’s not a game-defining talent.
He has his uses, no doubt about it, but there are better out there when it comes to doing the job he fits best at Chelsea, and it may end up conspiring to be his downfall. For Real Madrid have registered a strong interest in the diminutive combatant, and their renowned financial clout means that they’re likely willing to pay whatever Mourinho deems acceptable to push through a deal at the next available opportunity.
Potential Ramires sale
If the Blues are offered such a proposal then it will certainly test Mourinho’s resolve, but in the end they’d be fools not to consent to Ramires’s sale. Whilst in seasons past he was a vital cog in the Chelsea machine he’s now but a handy squad member to have in games where a player with that little something extra in the tank is needed.
By offloading him Mourinho would free up squad space and be handed funds to go towards the addition of Pogba, or another midfielder of his ilk. If he’s able to get his hands on a replacement who provides a step up in quality similar to Costa on Fernando Torres or Fabregas on the ageing Lampard then Chelsea, in my mind at least, will have the final piece of the puzzle which promises to make them champions for the foreseeable future.
Since his return to Stamford Bridge Mourinho’s transfer calls have largely been nothing short of genius. Surely allowing Madrid to flash the cash for Ramires gives him a chance to continue that streak?