The word, ‘boring’, has become so synonymous with Chelsea over the past few months that snooker player Steve Davis is in danger of relinquishing his title. And the tactic of ‘parking the bus’ (a term generally said to be coined by Jose Mourinho about another team he had come up against – although I’m sure someone uttered it in a pub match or elsewhere years before) has become as firmly associated with the Blues as Cornish pasties are with Cornwall.
It is a link that has cemented itself to Mourinho since the Champions League semi-final in April 2010 when his Inter Milan side kept out and knocked out Barcelona by playing one of the most defensive minded games in living memory, particularly in a match of that magnitude and for the length of time that they did it – virtually the whole match.
We were familiar with small and/or lesser teams employing this tactic for long periods of a contest, but not a club the size of the mighty Internazionale although, to be fair, they had ten men from the 28th minute and were up against the even mightier Barcelona – the best side of the modern era, possibly any era.
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Because of the way they played and the antagonistic personality that Mourinho portrays, it is used as a baton to whack him with. Whenever someone seen as a ‘maverick’ – like Mourinho is - does something out of the ordinary, it is blown out of proportion ten-fold and they are tarred with it forever – which is what happens when the Portuguese plays or opens his mouth.
Every football manager in history, bar Arsene Wenger and Kevin Keegan, has ‘parked the bus’ every so often in their career. Despite his attack-minded reputation (style of play and verbal) Alex Ferguson would nearly always do the same if his side had only a one goal lead against a dangerous team and they were rarely, if ever, never accused of lacking excitement.
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Up until the New Year, Chelsea were having praise lavished on them from most corners of football from their first game against Burnley where Cesc Fabregas and company contributed to a class display in a 3-1 win. A 6-3 victory at Everton and a 4-2 victory at home to Swansea City followed in matches three and four. It was not too convincing considering they conceded five goals in two games, but it was entertaining nonetheless. And so too was the 5-3 defeat against Tottenham Hotspur on New Year’s Day – even more so for Chelsea haters.
It was around this period where Mourinho’s side had their worst period of the season, but again, still good to watch, although it was probably because of that game at White Hart Lane that Chelsea employed their so-called ‘boring’ tactics. Only four of the remaining 18 games in the league yielded more than three goals between them and their opponents.
One of them came in the form of a 5-0 thrashing of a good Swansea City team at the Liberty Stadium, who were widely regarded – and rightly so – for having a very good season having finished eighth with 56 points. (This, incidentally, is not The Swans’ highest position come the end of a top-flight season as many people have been saying - they came 6th with 69 points in 1981-82. These people even failed to mention Premier League in their statements, which would have been understandable, but it’s a sure sign that some really do think football was founded in 1992.)
But anyway, it was an outstanding, fluid performance against one of the most fluid performers of all in Garry Monk’s team, which demonstrated - if the first half of the season hadn’t already - their ability to ‘turn it on’ as it were. The loss against Tottenham exposed defensive frailties that were not perceived to exist, with John Terry and Gary Cahill in particular being run ragged by Harry Kane and co.
It was a bad time for Cahill who started the season so well and the capitulation to League One Bradford City in the FA Cup merely confirmed that the Spurs game was no blip, although a bit of complacency may have crept into that Bradford game, however well the Bantams played - which equated to very good – particularly with Chelsea being two goals up against an obviously inferior side.
After the match against Tottenham, Chelsea had conceded 19 goals in 20 outings while they only let in 13 in 18 afterwards. The Blues were only five points clear of Manchester City at the time of the Bradford game, so any slip-up like conceding a penalty, like they did against Tottenham, could be punished and prove costly in the race for the title.
Mourinho’s a proud man and the fact he said he would win the league this season meant he had to, so he had to be stringent in defence, and the injury to Diego Costa accentuated this approach. Thanks to transforming their style and City going through the motions, they ended up eight points clear of Manuel Pellegrini’s men. It is not ideal for the neutral and/or football purist, but Chelsea were ‘boring’ when they needed to be.
Chelsea fans: do you care about your team being labelled 'boring'? Let us know below!