Saturday August 2 2014

It’s Chelsea title to lose

John Terry is set to ease the crisis at Chelsea

John Terry is set to ease the crisis at Chelsea and hand Antonio Conte a major boost by returning from injury against Hull today. Chelsea have slumped to back-to-back League defeats against Liverpool and Arsenal. AFP photo 

By Allan Ssekamatte

Words can make or break a man, a life, career or even a team’s collective spirit. That is why we all grow up being encouraged to think before we talk. Indeed in Proverbs 18:21, King Solomon states as much. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof,” said the wisest man who ever lived.
It is against this background that it is safe to argue it was a mistake of catastrophic proportions for Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho to keep insisting his team could not win last season’s English Premiership title, even when they had built a five-point advantage over their rivals.
Asked about his team’s title chances after they outplayed Manchester City 2-0 at the Ettihad, the Portuguese gaffer said: “Two horses and a little horse. A little horse that still needs milk and to learn how to jump. A horse that next season can race.” Such self-deprecation only motivated his players in the one-off encounters with title rivals Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal against whom him side thrived.

Otherwise, this strategy of using reverse psychology boomeranged badly on him when he came face to face with the league’s paperweights.
The points lost to West Ham United (0-0), Crystal Palace (0-0), Stoke City (2-3) and Aston Villa (0-1) were dropped due to shyness in front of goal, and their manager’s refusal to believe in his own team’s invincibility. It was a straight forward case of falling on the Sword of Damocles that were his words. Addressing the team’s mental readiness for success (starting with himself) and improving on a paltry 71 league goals compared to 102 for Man City and 101 for Liverpool have been chief pre-occupations in the off-season for the man formerly known as the Special One. Mourinho has re-energised his attack by ejecting Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba and recruiting 35-goal Brazil-born Spanish international Diego Costa and club legend Didier Drogba.

Despite Romelu Lukaku refusing to play as a bit part striker, Chelsea will have the firepower to properly challenge for their first league title in four years. Nevertheless, Mourinho needs to address the team’s playing style as last season the centre forward was often isolated.

Oscar, Willian, Hazard and the ever improving Andrea Schurrle must learn how to play off Costa who is expected to spearhead the attack or the position will go to summer arrival Cesc Fabregas.
The former Arsenal skipper failed to reach his peak at Barcelona because he didn’t have serious responsibilities, yet he is a team who thrives on such. His great all-round abilities - ball winner, creator-par-excellence and goal scorer - means Mourinho will make him the team’s directing intelligence.

The two-time European Champions League winning coach has finally assembled the league’s most potent squad. I expect Chelsea to play in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Nemanja Matic and Ramires featuring as holding midfielders, with Fabregas, Hazard and Oscar or Willian as the attacking midfielders. Fabregas could alternatively play as a deep-lying creative midfielder in a role similar to Andrea Pirlo’s.

Last season, Chelsea had the EPL’s most frugal defense. Yet Mourinho has strengthened his backline even further my recalling Thibaut Courtois - perhaps the world’s premier goalkeeper and adding tough-tackling defenders Felipe Luis and Kurt Zouma to his trenches. I expect Cesar Azpilicueta to be moved to right back to improve the team’s attacking impetus, with Branislav Ivanovic going into central defense where he should share responsibilities with John Terry and Gary Cahill.
To round up, Mourinho’s words notwithstanding, Chelsea’s title chances are much better than last season. The arrival of Courtois, Fabregas, Luis, Lukaku, Drogba and Costa plus the return from injury of Marco van Ginkel makes Chelsea odds on favourites.

Manuel Pellegrini’s champions Manchester City, Arsenal and Louis van Gaal’s rebuilt Manchester United will be the other major title contenders as Luis Suarez’s departure is a body blow to Liverpool who will struggle to reach last season’s dizzying heights.