As the chants of ‘boring boring Chelsea’ rang out across the Emirates last weekend, Jose Mourinho could not resist taking yet another swipe at Arsenal and his rival Arsene Wenger. ‘I think boring is 10 years without a title. That’s very boring’, was his riposte to those who questioned his side’s approach. It was classic Mourinho, and provided a perfect illustration of his view of football. While other managers may cling to their philosophies and live and die by their principles, Mourinho has only one philosophy – winning. For him it is all about trophies; how you win them comes a very distant second.
In recent weeks his Chelsea side has had to endure constant scrutiny concerning its style of play. As they ground out results on their way to the title, fans and pundits have been left wondering why such an expensively assembled team brimming with attacking talent was playing such defensive minded football. Are Chelsea really boring, and does it really matter anyway?
The very best
In truth, Chelsea have been the best team in the league by some distance this year. People have short memories when it comes to football, for the allusions to Chelsea’s ‘boring’ style of play obscures their electric start to the season. In those autumn months they exhibited a style of football that many though they would never see from a Jose Mourinho side.
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A free-flowing attacking philosophy was built around an effervescent Cesc Fabregas pulling the strings, Eden Hazard running rings around defenders and Diego Costa scoring goals for fun. It was an intoxicating brand of football that swept all before them. However, as injuries and fatigue took hold, this brand of football was swapped for a more defensive minded approach. The attacking mind-set was sacrificed for a more pragmatic approach.
No-one is pretending that the football Chelsea exhibited during the last few weeks has been thrilling to watch. Some of it has been manifestly dull. They beat Manchester United with 29% of possession, and against Crystal Palace they finished the game with three holding midfielders protecting their back four. It is hardly the greatest advert for the Premier League, supposedly the most exciting in the world, when the champions are so happy to feed off scraps and protect slender leads.
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None of this will matter a jot to Jose Mourinho however. The man is a serial winner. In the New Year he took a calculated decision to change Chelsea’s style of play. It was not a decision that was motivated by any aesthetic considerations, but rather one driven by the all-consuming need to ensure that Chelsea were crowned champions in the spring.
Perhaps Mourinho’s greatest gift as a manager is in getting his team to buy into his method of football. Players have been persuaded to subdue their attacking instincts for a more defensive minded approach.
Chelsea are a team who work for each other from the first minute to the last. The work rate of Hazard, Oscar and Willian has been staggering to behold at times, players hardy renowned for their work rate when they arrived at the club. He has won them over to his way of thinking by offering them that all important commodity in return – trophies.
The simple truth is that Chelsea are deserved champions. They have been the best team in the division from August to May. Built upon a fantastic young goalkeeper and a defensive solidarity, it is no coincidence that three of their back four made it into the PFA team of the year. Protected by the indomitable Nemanja Matic, Mourinho has ensured that breaking down Chelsea is a fiendishly tricky prospect.
This is borne out by the fact that their total of 27 goals conceded is the lowest in the league. Further forward Hazard has taken the plaudits as part of an attacking force that formed a crucial part of a team that sits only second to Manchester City in terms of goals scored.
The bottom line is that Chelsea are champions, and for all the complaints about their style, few can argue that they do not deserve the Premier League trophy. It has been a season of two halves, from the free-scoring Chelsea of the autumn to the dogged defence that has characterised their play in the spring.
Whatever you think of Mourinho, he has masterminded their return to the top of tree, and they are not going to relinquish their position easily. The real questions is this: would the Arsenal fans singing ‘boring boring Chelsea’ be prepared to sacrifice some of Wenger’s aesthetic principles in return for a first title in over a decade? My suspicion is that most would bite your hand off if given the offer.