Jose Mourinho: Has He Stifled Chelsea's Attacking and Creative Instincts?

Nick Miller@NickMiller79Featured ColumnistMay 5, 2014

Chelsea's Willian, right, reacts after a foul on his teammate Eden Hazard, by Norwich's Ryan Bennett during their English Premier League soccer match between Chelsea and Norwich City at Stamford Bridge stadium in London Sunday, May 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Alastair Grant/Associated Press

In a manner not really befitting their manager's brash style, what remained of Chelsea's title challenge flickered before gently going out in Sunday's insipid 0-0 draw with Norwich.

Of course, it is still mathematically possible that Chelsea could pip Liverpool and Manchester City to the Premier League crown, but it is highly unlikely. At the time of writing, Chelsea are a point behind both North West teams, though a victory for either Liverpool or City in their respective games in hand would mean a trophyless season for Chelsea and Mourinho—something neither are particularly used to.

Alastair Grant/Associated Press

Chelsea's record against the big teams this season has been discussed at length, but it's worth reiterating just how good it is. Sixteen points from a possible 18 against the other members of the top four is sensational. The record is even better when you throw in a win and a draw against Manchester United, which even taking into account their current travails is still a big game.

Less impressive though, and the reason that they will not be champions, is their record against the smaller sides. Sunday's draw can be filed alongside defeats to Newcastle, Crystal Palace, Stoke, Sunderland and Aston Villa, and draws with West Brom (twice) and West Ham, which represent 23 points carelessly flung aside. If they had picked up just a third of those lost points, they would be champions.

It is perhaps ironic that Chelsea have gained points by being tough to break down in the bigger tests, but lost them by failing to breach defences that set up in much the same way. One reason for that could be Mourinho's emphasis on players "sacrificing" themselves for the team, which of course has proved a successful tactic in the past—the most obvious example being Samuel Eto'o as a hard-working winger with Inter. But he seems to have overdone this at Chelsea, and has thus sucked some of the creativity from the team.

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

Oscar's form has fallen away, Juan Mata was sold because he allegedly slowed the game down and didn't offer enough defensively, Willian has been turned into more of a solid worker than the imaginative playmaker everyone thought Chelsea had signed last summer and Mourinho has chosen to single out Eden Hazard for particular criticism of late.

Mourinho chose to emphasise his most creative and, arguably, best player's contribution, or lack thereof, following Chelsea's Champions League exit at the hands of Atletico Madrid. He's quoted as saying by the BBC:

He's not the kind of player to sacrifice himself for the team. He's not mentally ready to look to his left-back and leave his life for him.

Normally you get these kind of comments from players like him, from players that can't resolve a problem like we had with the first goal.

If you see Atletico's first goal, you completely understand where the mistake was and why we conceded that goal.

Perhaps Hazard didn't "sacrifice" himself enough for Mourinho's liking, but not all players will. Mourinho has seemingly become obsessed with not allowing any player to merely be a creator and be largely excused from defensive duties.

This inevitably has a knock-on effect, because the creative types required to break down teams who come to Stamford Bridge to defend—as West Ham and Norwich and, to an extent, Sunderland did—have become less concerned with doing their primary job, and more worried about being solid and tracking back.

Mourinho has proven himself to be a very adaptable coach in the past, with the ability to change his approach based on the opposition and circumstances, but this season his attitude seems to have tipped too far in one direction. If Chelsea are to succeed next term, Mourinho may have to rethink his plans.