The Class of the Special One 2004 and 2013: Mourinho's Chelsea
Sunday afternoon will see Jose Mourinho return to Premier League football after an absence of six years. The Special One is back at the helm of Chelsea, and just as before his first match in 2004, expectations could not be higher for the global superstar manager.
But what has changed in that near-decade since the first time the charismatic figure, fresh from Champions League success with Porto, was presented before the Stamford Bridge masses?
Has he returned to West London to find an even stronger outfit than the one he took over the first time around?
Unsurprisingly, the Portuguese national has no doubts over the Blues' strength, but more than anything, he has no doubts about his own. Speaking in quotes picked up by Sky Sports in the days before his second debut with Chelsea, against Hull in Stamford Bridge, Mourinho was certain that he has improved since leaving:
I think I am better than ever. Experience helps us to be better, especially managers. We are not like players, that sometimes age changes for the negative side. I just want to be seen as someone who gives everything for his club and the Premier League.
I look to improve my players and make a contribution to my club, not just in a selfish way, but to give the club conditions not just for tomorrow, but for the long term.
But what of the players he has at his disposal?
Of the team that lined up against Manchester United on Aug. 15, 2004, only three men are still at the club: goalkeeper Petr Cech, captain John Terry and midfield talisman Frank Lampard. The trio have become living legends with the Blues and owe much of their success to the revolution Mourinho ushered in during his first spell at the club.
Elsewhere, the team appears to be even stronger than in that 1-0 defeat of United nine years ago that announced the new Chelsea era to the world. Unheralded performers such as Wayne Bridge, Paulo Ferreira, Geremi and Alexei Smertin are long gone from the Bridge, and those who will line up on Sunday are far superior in terms of ability.
Young signings plucked from across Europe and the world also give 2013's squad a depth which would be the envy of its counterpart from nine years ago. Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Cesar Azpilicueta, Oscar and Kevin De Bruyne are all red hot prospects who promise to deliver for Chelsea for many years to come.
If there is one area in which 2004 could have the edge, it is up front. Didier Drogba provided the assist for the first goal of Mourinho's Premier League reign to Eidur Gudjohnsen, and after that auspicious debut, Drogba went on to establish himself as one of the greatest scorers ever to pull on the Chelsea shirt.
In comparison, Fernando Torres has still to prove himself as a worthy successor to the Ivory Coast star. El Nino has performed in fits and starts for Chelsea, and his brilliant run in the Europa League last season gives hope that, playing under Mourinho for the first time, he can finally reproduce his best form.
But behind the Spain international, there does appear to be a distinct lack of centre-forwards, which could pose a problem should Torres struggle with injury or poor displays.
But overall, Mourinho has every reason to be confident in his second spell. While in 2004 he took over a team that, while inflated by Roman Abramovich's millions, had gone 49 years without a league title, now he enters with fans accustomed to fighting for and winning the world's most prestigious trophies.
With the playing staff and winning attitude in place, the Special One's latest adventure at the Bridge could prove even more special than the first time around.
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