Last season was a strange season for many Chelsea fans. Delighted as we were that Jose Mourinho had returned, most of us knew that an instant return to the success the club had formerly enjoyed under him was unlikely. The squad was unbalanced, overloaded with younger players, and we desperately lacked a quality strike force. Third place in the league and a Champions League semi-final would, at the start of the season, have seemed a reasonable return – if not exactly a cause for celebration. We’re not Arsenal, after all.
The fact that it now seems somewhat of a disappointment is testimony to the excellent position we had played ourselves into by March. Four wins away from the league title, 90 minutes away from Lisbon – yet we came up short on both counts. This coming season, there will be no excuse if we find ourselves in the same position and fail to end up with at least one major honour.
The expectations on Mourinho a year in have changed. First of all, he must successfully rebuild his squad so that it can play in the way he demands it. Too little was achieved last summer, not the least in the striker department. It was a mistake by Abramovich, in retrospect, not to stump up the extra cash needed to land either Falcao or Cavani – a mistake compounded by our ill-judged pursuit of Rooney.
This time around, it seems, Chelsea will sort out their strike force problems immediately, with Costa apparently about to be unveiled any day now and at least one more attacking player (Lavezzi would be ideal) on their way imminently. But other holes in the squad need to be addressed as well, and the sooner this is settled, the better.
Mourinho must then try to weld together the effervescent attacking play of the first half of last season with the solid defending of the second. It was right to go back to basics after the Stoke defeat because winning teams are built on solid defensive foundations. But now it’s his task to recapture the flair, preferably by doing more than just getting the rest of the team to give the ball to Hazard.
He must also find a way to beat teams who park the bus. The dropped points against Crystal Palace, West Ham and Sunderland cost us the title and we cannot afford to do it again. This means finding a plan B that is cleverer than Ivanovic crossing diagonal balls into the area. Getting our full-backs forward, make better use of the wings, passing round packed defences and getting to the bye-line to cross would be a start.
We must also retain consistency. Manchester City are likely to be less cavalier next season, and Manchester United will be strong. The title winners, whoever they are, are unlikely to lose as many as six games next time round.
As for Europe, it’s now surely the minimum expected of a Mourinho team to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League. He’s done it three times with Chelsea and seven times in nine attempts. Progress in this competition is, of course, in the hands of the gods and whoever is carrying out the draw for UEFA, but a final for a Mourinho-led Chelsea is surely overdue.
And then there’s the domestic cups. Mourinho is an advocate of the philosophy that success breeds success and has always been keen on the cups. Chelsea, too, have maintained an intimate relationship with the FA Cup for a decade and more. We’ve missed it and want it back.
This, then, is the task for Mourinho this season. Rebuild the squad in the summer, beat the small fry, play with flair, win the title (or at least be fighting for it still on the last day of the season), reach the final of the Champions League, and bring home a cup. Piece of cake.