The most exciting Premier League campaign in recent memory took another plot twist Monday, when Chelsea came onto Manchester City’s impenetrable home turf and brought the walls down.
Chelsea’s 1-0 victory changes the narrative, which is the driving force behind so much of the global interest in England’s Premier League. As the story of the 2013-14 season transitions from one act to the next, so must the role of one of the league’s brightest stars — Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho.
Since returning to Chelsea last summer, Mourinho has gone through great lengths to downplay the expectations surrounding his team. The so-called “Happy One” has repeated his mantra (that his team is not ready to win now but will do so starting next season) so often that he might even believe his own words.
That comfortable line has given him and his players room for error as they adjust to one another, but they haven’t needed much space so far this season. Chelsea has been at or around the top of the league since the start of the season, and the Blues have an impressive record against their rivals for domestic supremacy.
10 - Chelsea have taken 10 points from four games against the other teams in the PL top four this season. Professional.—
(@OptaJoe) February 03, 2014
Being in the title hunt and a successful January transfer market didn’t stop Mourinho from playing the underdog role in the days and weeks leading up to Monday’s crunch contest. Mourinho fixed his gaze on Manchester City and told the public what he saw: Manchester City is the Premier League’s best team and it has the financial muscle to retain that status for as long as it wants.
City’s scary-good form of recent weeks, its winning streaks and unblemished home record in 2013-14 made Mourinho’s words all the more believable, but they must be understood as one of those “mind games” for which the Portuguese tactician is famous.
Mourinho, the media and the public increased the pressure on Manchester City to the point that it was widely assumed that the Chelsea boss would “park the bus” in front of Chelsea’s goal for 90 minutes when it came to the Etihad Stadium.
That never happened.
As it has done this season against other top teams, Chelsea delivered an effective and focused performance, which inevitably led to a positive outcome. Chelsea struck a perfect balance between offense and defense, and deservedly won a game in which it created more a number of quality scoring chances and stifled their opponents’ vaunted attack. In fact, had the game ended in a draw or Chelsea defeat through some stroke of misfortune, the Blues would have still earned praise for their performance.
But that didn’t happen either.
Chelsea is basking in glory after another famous victory in Mourinho’s second reign. The win moves Chelsea up to a tie for second-place with Manchester City, just two points behind league-leading Arsenal. Monday’s triumph was its second league victory over Manchester City this season, and it Blues’ first double over City since the 2008-09 season, which was, by little coincidence, the first year under Manchester City’s current owner Sheikh Mansour. Chelsea also becomes the first team to beat Manchester City twice in the same league season since Everton did it in 2010-11.
Chelsea is racking up other impressive stats of their own. The Blues are unbeaten in league play since losing to Stoke City on Dec. 7. They’ve won eight out of their last 10 games (with two draws) in all competitions, keeping shutouts in seven of them. Chelsea’s defense is the stingiest in the league having conceded just 20 goals in 24 games (one more than Arsenal).
Yet, after Chelsea’s defeat of Manchester City, Mourinho clung to the underdog role.
“It’s not our responsibility or objective to do that [win the league this season],” he said, according to the London Evening Standard. “Our objective is to build the team. Some managers, some clubs because of the nature their DNA they say two, three, five years.
“I want to start the next preseason in the summer and say this season we are going to win the league. This season I can’t.”
We get it, Mourinho. You continue to do your job, and we’ll do ours by looking at the facts. Chelsea could sit at the top of the league as early as this weekend. If Mourinho’s blues get ahold of that position, they might not let go. The standings don’t lie at this point in the season. Chelsea are one of the title favorites, regardless of what Mourinho says. While we can appreciate Mourinho’s embrace of the underdog, it’s time for him to put on a new face. It’s not that we don’t like it. It’s just not believable anymore.
Maybe John Terry is leading the charge on this particular front. The rejuvinated Chelsea captain told Sky Sports that Monday’s victory exposed Manchester City’s vulnerabilities to the rest of the league.
“They’ve been phenomenal scoring goals and turning teams over,” said. “It was important not just for us but for other teams, showing that they can be beaten.”
Terry said what we expected Mourinho to say. Perhaps it’s now Terry job to maintain the public pressure on City, while Mourinho takes aim at his next target: Arsenal and its manager Arsene Wenger.
We won’t know how Mourinho’s mind games will play out for the rest of the season, but we can’t wait to see, hear and read about it all.