So José Mourinho’s back in town. He’s won the Premier League, the Champions League, Serie A, and the Portuguese league all twice each. He’s also won La Liga, the UEFA Cup, the FA Cup, the League Cup, Coppa Italia, and Copa del Rey. The list is endless. Upon arriving in England in 2004, he dubbed himself the “Special One.” This time around, however, he claimed he’s merely the “Happy One” to be back. At the age of fifty, with all those trophies under his belt, it’s probably fair to say he’s both.
Intriguingly, his two chief domestic competitors this season are also new to their jobs. First up, there’s David Moyes at Manchester United. Chosen for his ability to sustain a club after an impressive eleven-year spell at Everton, he’s certainly a safe pair of hands. But what has he actually won? The third-tier of English football with Preston North End and, as of last Sunday, the Community Shield is the answer to that question. And as for Manuel Pellegrini, the ex-Real Madrid boss now in charge of Manchester City, a couple of league titles in Mexico and Argentina as well as the Intertoto Cup with Villarreal are the extent of his silverware.
This is why every man and his dog seem to be tipping Mourinho and Chelsea to reclaim the Premier League crown this season. He is undoubtedly the best manager in the Premier League now that Sir Alex Ferguson has decided to hang up his hairdryer. The aforementioned trophy haul alone proves that; that’s without getting into his formidable tactical acumen, his feisty mind-games, and his incredible ability to get the absolute best out of his players.
But what about those players at his disposal? It is often argued that a good goalkeeper can provide a side with an extra ten points a season, but that logic is surely better applied to managers instead. They can make a difference, a very big one in fact; but there’s only so much they can do with the resources available to them, as David Moyes knows only too well. That is not to compare Chelsea to Everton but, last season, Chelsea finished third on 75 points. Having not really strengthened the squad a great deal this summer, there could be an argument, then, that the maximum amount of points Chelsea are realistically looking at this season is 85. Last season, that would have placed them second behind Manchester United. Only once since Arsenal went the entire season unbeaten in 2003/04 would 85 points have been enough to win the title – in a very sub-par season in 2010/11. It would surely not be enough this season given the continued strength of the Manchester clubs.
That is not to dismiss Chelsea’s chances entirely; they quite clearly could win the league. United, of course, aren’t likely to attain as many points this season because Sir Alex Ferguson has gone, and an inferior manager has replaced him. Meanwhile, no major signing has arrived, while the likes of Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, and Rio Ferdinand have grown another year older. But what about Manchester City? Pellegrini’s trophy haul may pale in comparison to Mourinho’s, but the Chilean is a vastly experienced manager, having led Villarreal to the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2006, and Malaga within a minute of that exact same feat last season. He is, to put it frankly, a shrewder manager than Mancini, capable of exerting more out of the squad available to him, both domestically and in Europe. He will also bring some much-needed calm to a previously frenzied environment.
Furthermore, unlike Chelsea and United, City’s squad has been significantly added to. In the attacking areas, they have added some sorely lacked width and pace with the arrival of Jesus Navas, while essentially replacing the departed and somewhat troublesome duo of Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli with Stevan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo. Providing the latter recovers from Luis Suarez’s alleged repeated ill-use of his name back in October 2011, this talented trio should help City improve on last season’s dismal lack of goals (only Everton scored less in the top seven), while another top-class central midfielder has finally arrived in the shape of (the admittedly over-priced) Fernandinho from Shakhtar to ensure City fans shouldn’t have to endure the plodding of Javi Garcia or Gareth Barry quite as often.
With the possible exception of centre-back, then, City’s squad contains at least two top players per position, giving them ridiculous strength in depth. And, while United’s first XI could do with an addition or two, they too have a very competitive squad, supremely accustomed to winning trophies through extensive rotation and self-discipline. Furthermore, while Moyes may lack experience at the elite level, he does have the small matter of having the best player in the league by some distance at his disposal. (That Anderson really is a cracking player, y’know.)
Chelsea arguably have the finest set of attacking midfielders in the league, with Andre Schurrle ready to combine with Eden Hazard where Duff and Robben left off circa 2007, but they appear to lack the strength in depth of the Manchester clubs. Moreover, the glaring issues of last season – central midfield and up-front – are yet to be addressed in this summer’s window; Kevin de Bruyne and Marco van Ginkel are unproven and more attacking midfielders by nature, while it remains to be seen how Romelu Lukaku will perform in a side generally expected to break the opposition down. Should United, as expected, address their own major issue by signing a top central midfielder, it could leave Mourinho with a task beyond even his managerial expertise, unless he can sign the world-class striker he publicly craves.
With three new managers set to go head-to-head(-to-head) for the Premier League title, this season could be a fascinating one compared to the damp squib of last. However, while Mourinho might be the happiest, most special manager in the league, both Moyes and, in particular, Pellegrini have inherited stronger squads to power through the finishing line. And, ultimately, that is what will probably matter most come May.