It is a perceived wisdom that a manger’s impact upon a team begins to fade after three seasons in charge. No matter how successful, a change is needed to freshen things up and bring back the spark. As well as that of his great rival Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho’s career has been the primary evidence in support of this theory in the modern era.
In his first spell at Chelsea he was dismissed after a poor start to his fourth campaign, and at Real Madrid his time came to a conclusion as his third season ended amid a fractured dressing room. For managers like Mourinho, and Guardiola, who demand so much of their players, this pattern is understandable. Yet, for Mourinho, if the third season may have so far proved to be the beginning of the end of his ultra-effectiveness, the second is very much the sweet spot.
Perhaps still his most remarkable achievement, of course, came in his first second season at a club, when leading Porto to the Champions League in 2004. He repeated the trick with Inter Milan six years later, and in his next job, at Real Madrid, he knocked Barcelona off their perch to land the Spanish league title, again in his second season. Only in his first spell at Chelsea could it be argued that the achievements of his second year were matched, winning the Premier League in both of his first two years.
It remains to be seen whether the second season will prove to be the high point of his return to Stamford Bridge, but it certainly looks poised to be one to remember. In his first year back, there was a sense that Mourinho was still trying to synchronize his own demands and ideology with the talent he was handed. This season, boosted by the arrival of some key ingredients -- Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas -- over the summer, Chelsea look a formidable force. The team’s unbeaten record may have gone earlier this month, but they remain top of the Premier League, into the last 16 of the Champions League, through to the semifinals of the Capital One Cup and ready to begin their challenge in the FA Cup in the new year. Already whispers have been uttered, much to Mourinho’s own dismay, about an unprecedented quadruple. It remains a highly optimistic target, with one bad performance or one piece of bad luck potentially fatal.
Here’s a look at their prospects for each trophy:
Chelsea’s lead has been cut from a comfortable eight point lead over champions Manchester City near the end of November to a nervy three points. While Manchester United have won six matches in a row to move eight points back of the lead, it still looks set to be a two-horse race. And Chelsea, despite City’s impressive form, have the edge. Although City can certainly be a match for Chelsea on their day, they are more streaky and their mentality seemingly less robust than that of the Blues. Also standing in Chelsea’s favor is that they still have to welcome City to Stamford Bridge at the end of January, with Manchester United making the trip south in April. Chelsea’s festive period is testing -- traveling to Stoke City, Southampton and Tottenham and hosting in-form West Ham -- but their efficiency in putting games to bed early should stand them in good stead of negotiating the packed calendar. And that will leave them well positioned for a first title in five years.
This is surely the trophy that Mourinho craves more than any other. He may be forever denied the glory of helping Chelsea to be crowned European champions for the first time, but he still has the opportunity to become the first manager in history to win the European Cup with three different clubs. Chelsea’s draw for the last 16, a repeat of last year’s quarterfinal against Paris Saint-Germain, is not ideal, but is one they should handle. Mourinho’s men are stronger than a year ago and PSG, if anything, look weaker. Right now, the main barriers to Chelsea winning the competition are his former club Real Madrid and the team managed by his former rival, Guardiola, Bayern Munich. Both would present enormous challenges and arguably have more raw talent than Chelsea, but you wouldn’t back against Mourinho devising a plan to stop them.
Chelsea will host Championship side Watford in the third round, and, while their opponents are enjoying a strong season, they will expect to progress without undue drama. From there anything could happen depending on the draw. But what is known is that Chelsea have been by far the most successful team in the FA Cup in recent times, winning the competition four times in the past eight seasons. Mourinho, himself, delivered one of those triumphs, and will look to continue his trophy haul this time around. It could be, though, that the FA Cup gets shifted aside in the list of priorities if Chelsea are pursuing both the Premier League and Champions League at the season’s climax. Mourinho has fielded a consistent lineup this season and Chelsea could be vulnerable if key players -- like Nemanja Matic, John Terry and Costa -- are rested.
Capital One Cup
Mourinho has always put much stock in doing well in the often-maligned League Cup. In his first spell, claiming the first trophy of the season helped build a winning mentality that took Chelsea onto greater success. And he will be keen to do similar by landing the first silverware since his return. Chelsea will face Liverpool in the semifinals and it would be a major surprise were the struggling Merseysiders able to oust them over two legs. Tottenham, who take on Sheffield United in the other last four matchup, are then likely to await in the final. Given Spurs’ early-season performances and Chelsea’s dominant record against their London rivals in recent years, it looks a good bet that the League Cup will be heading to Stamford Bridge.