Love him or hate him—and I'm in the love him camp—Jose Mourinho has changed. He's a more humble manager the second time around at Chelsea. You'll see him chatting to other coaches, and he's avoiding picking the fights he used to.
It's almost as if he's not that sure of himself. The Special One is having to prove his credentials all over again, but this time things are not all on his terms. Roman Abramovich gave him carte blanche in his first spell at Stamford Bridge; the Chelsea owner has his requirements now.
Mourinho has quietly adapted to the task. He's gone back to what makes him comfortable—focusing on defensive strength and attacking on the counter, and with great success too. When you look at the team he's putting out, Chelsea have the best back five in the Premier League.
They have the most consistent goalkeeper in Petr Cech, whose exceptional work this season had almost gone unnoticed before he eclipsed Peter Bonetti's club record with his 209th clean sheet against Hull, as per the Express.
John Terry remains England's best central defender, by some distance. It will be Roy Hodgson's loss that Terry won't be at the World Cup this summer. Terry also manages to get the best out of Gary Cahill, who is not the same player without his veteran partner alongside him.
Credit must go to Arsenal's excellent central pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker, but I would put Terry and Cahill above them. Arsenal remain vulnerable occasionally, as they proved in their 6-3 defeat to Manchester City, while I can't see Chelsea succumbing to a similar defensive collapse.
Chelsea's fullbacks, Branislav Ivanovic and Ashley Cole, complete their impressive back five. People who are writing Cole off are preposterous. He's still one of the best left-backs in the world, though Aleksander Kolarov at Manchester City is providing strong competition for the title of best in the Premier League.
It's a strong defence, more often than not, that wins you a title. Perhaps Mourinho needed to convince himself, and Abramovich for that matter, that to win trophies he needed to get things sorted at the back first. He's not just laid a foundation for a challenge this season; he's laid one for the next two or three seasons.
Long-term, Chelsea are the Premier League team I would fear most. What Manchester City are doing is incredible, and both Arsenal and Liverpool have made fine progress, but Mourinho's Chelsea are looking like a genuine force again. He has them playing to his tried and tested formula, and it's working.
Mourinho is now unbeaten in 70 Premier League home games as Chelsea manager. What's even more remarkable, is the fact his team are better equipped to win away from home than they are at Stamford Bridge.
Ultimately I think he wants to play 4-3-3, and signing Nemanja Matic will allow him to do that. Matic will give him flexibility in terms of formation and better, smarter protection in front of back four. His intelligence in possession will spark Chelsea's fluidity going forward as well, especially in transition. I can also see Mourinho opt for a false nine with Eden Hazard, Oscar and even Juan Mata in that role, as he did with Andre Schurrle in the second half against Aston Villa, earlier in the season.
The next three weeks are obviously huge. Chelsea play both Manchester clubs, starting with United on Sunday, and it's hard to see them losing both games and winning the title. It's often not how many games you lose, but when you lose them.
Mourinho's influence will be to the fore. We talk about the way he shields his players from the glare, but in putting himself out there to the media he's also laying down the gauntlet to his squad. He's showing them how to lead. Sir Alex Ferguson did it and Antonio Conte does it. All the great managers do.
At the start of the season I picked City to win the title, with Chelsea second. Mourinho's team might be under-the-radar a little, but I can see them proving me wrong.
Mourinho has been going about his business more quietly than usual, but he's building a Chelsea team that will be soon be the loudest in the land again.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!