As the Man Utd and Chelsea players trudged off the Old Trafford pitch on Monday evening, the Twitter vultures circled. Supporters, journalists and neutrals alike decried the first major showpiece of the Premier League season as a major letdown. One thing was obvious to all – the second Mourinho era had begun in earnest.
Often remembered for his pragmatic tactics as much as his victories, the Chelsea manager’s stifling approach was blamed for turning what was the most anticipated fixture of the Premier League so far into a test in endurance for viewers – the entire match featured one shot on target from inside the area.
Yet, the Chelsea supporters remain delighted to have the Portuguese back at the helm, with the general reaction from Blues fans being that this was most definitely a point gained rather than two dropped.
The facts remain, though, that Mourinho opted to start without a striker and left Chelsea’s Player of the Year, and match-winner in this fixture last season, on the bench for the duration. These decisions alone would have been enough to earn some previous managers criticism.
But just how dull is Jose Mourinho as a manager, and how much more effective are his methods compared to others who have managed in his absence?
Certain statistics would appear to confirm the received wisdom of both notions – that Mou achieves success more frequently than his Chelsea-managing contemporaries, but does so in a much more boring manner.
Mourinho’s tactics are often seen to be at their most negative when facing off against the other big teams in the league – a belief that is certainly reinforced when looking at the events of the August Bank Holiday. These games, whilst high in drama, did not produce a huge amount of goals in his first period in charge. When looking at the goals per game ratio of Mourinho’s Chelsea compared to the sides of 2007-2013, the numbers speak for themselves:
So, fewer goals in the big games would certainly appear to be on the cards under Mourinho compared to the teams managed by Avram Grant, Guus Hiddink, Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto Di Matteo and Rafael Benitez. Not only that, but the percentage of goalless draws against major rivals is huge compared to other Chelsea managers.
It is telling that in the 20 games played against Man Utd in his absence, there was not one 0-0 draw. His last league encounter with the Red Devils during his first tenure as manager? 0-0 at Stamford Bridge. Last competitive match against them? The FA Cup final seen by many as the dullest in recent memory, which remained goalless until the 116th minute when Didier Drogba put us all out of our misery.
It’s fairly clear from those two tables that the theories about his sides’ defensiveness against rivals are certainly true. His effectiveness, though, cannot be questioned.
Against all of his major rivals, Mourinho enjoys a better win percentage than the collective attained by the host of managers who succeeded him. This win percentage also translates into trophies, with the 1.67 per season he earned in his first season higher than the 1 per campaign achieved by his successors.
So, Chelsea fans, it’s all true. Your man remains box office in the press conference room and tediously effective on the pitch. This does seem to jar with Roman Abramovich’s unending desire to bring free-flowing attacking football to Stamford Bridge, as it did in Mourinho’s first stint in charge.
Is history doomed to repeat itself, with the gulf in ideologies between manager and owner proving a chasm too large to bridge? On the basis of his first game against a title rival, it would appear that Mourinho isn’t about to change the way he sets his sides up.
Abramovich, then, might have to be the leopard to change his spots if this relationship is to succeed in the long term.