The return of Jose Mourinho has prompted an awful lot of reflection and review amongst many Chelsea fans; yours truly included. Interestingly, I’ve found myself reviewing our seasons starting in 04/05 when we won the league. That was the start of something glorious for this club, and although we won the league double under Mourinho, it is probably fair to say that he got more out of his squads than successive managers have managed to get out of theirs. For example, we managed to accumulate an incredible 95 points in 04/05 with players like Thiago and Smertin getting 33 starts between them. When you compare it to the title winning squad of 09/10, you see a huge difference in supposed quality, and yet which team was more feared?
In Mourinho, we once again can have a manager who can get the absolute best out of his players. That being known, how does this current Chelsea team compare to the one that won the league and FA Cup in 09/10? Assuming that we make no further signings this summer, and making some assumptions about how Mourinho might choose to line out, a comparison might look something like.
Ivanovic – Terry – Carvalho – Cole
Ballack – Lampard
Anelka – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - Malouda
Hazard – - – - – Oscar – - – - – Mata
Lampard – Ramires
Cole – Luiz – Ivanovic – Azpilicueta
Obviously there are points of contention and places that can be argued (Cahill, Lukaku, Shurrle & Terry will all be fighting to be first choice) but it’s an entirely plausible starting 11. So how do we compare to the class of 09/10? Let’s break it down in to defence, midfield and attack.
In 09/10, we had the tail end of the Terry Carvalho partnership at its absolute peak, and it was a truly formidable pairing. Terry and Carvalho were the perfect match for each other and we’ve not truly replicated it since. Flanking them we had Ashley Cole just as he was arguably cementing his claim as the greatest left back in the world at the time, and a solid if unspectacular Ivanovic at right back. In goals, Petr Cech won the Golden Glove for the second year running. Compare that to today and we must give the edge to the 09/10 team. I firmly believe that Ivanovic and Luiz can form a truly formidable partnership at centre-half – one that can replicate the success of Terry and Carvalho – but they need time to gel. Ashley Cole is very close to being just as good a player as he was 4 years ago, and Azpilicueta has shown great potential, but on the balance our starting defence was probably a bit stronger back then.
In midfield, we had Ballack, Lampard and Mikel for most of the season. Going in to this season, we will probably be playing with Ramires, Lampard and Oscar. It is extremely difficult to compare this kind of group, as they are completely different types of players. Frank still brings the same style of play to the team, but Ballack and Oscar contribute to our attacking play in completely different ways. Oscar is far more likely to drift in to positions and act as a playmaker, while Ballack often concentrated on spreading the play and getting in to forward positions himself. Similarly, Mikel offers far greater protection to the defence than Ramires does when asked to do that role, but Ramires is far greater on the ball. Let’s call this one a tie for now.
Attacking wise is really interesting. Assuming Torres was to start as our main striker, most people would instantly say our 09/10 attacking potential was far greater. However, Juan Mata has scored 32 goals and assisted 59 goals in two seasons at Chelsea. In one season, Hazard has 14 goals and 20 assists. They absolutely blow Anelka and Malouda clean out of the water – there is no question whatsoever about it. Torres may be misfiring, but Mata and Hazard are good enough to beat anyone.
So what’s the final verdict? As a defensive unit, the 09/10 team were more cohesive and had better structure. They defended well and were extremely difficult to score against – something that our current crop haven’t managed to master just yet. However, from an attacking point of view, this squad has enough firepower to outscore anyone. Never mind a new striker – there’s nothing stopping us from competing now. What gives me hope is Mourinho’s ability to get the best out of his players. I’ve yet to see a Mourinho team that was easy to score against, and if he can bring that defensive prowess to this team, we’ll be incredibly difficult to beat.
What say you Blues fans – without any more signings, do you think this current Chelsea team is good enough to win the league?