Another big game, another big choke from Chelsea. I’m not much of a fan of the idea that the title is decided by a mini-league between the Big Four (those teams drop points across the Small Sixteen quite often actually), but Chelsea’s form in those games this season is telling: having played Liverpool twice, Manchester United twice and Arsenal once (at Stamford Bridge) they’ve taken just one point.
How far removed from the Mourinho era, when the ruthless and relentless Chelsea machine destroyed all before them. 95 points in 2004/05 and 91 in 2005/06 seem so far away now.
But it all started so well for Chelsea this season. With Cole and Bosingwa doing what Roberto Carlos and Cafu did for Scolari’s Brazil, and Lampard and Deco running games from midfield it seemed like they would sweep all before them. Every month they engaged in another piece of muscle flexing; smashing Portsmouth 4-0 in August, Bordeaux 4-0 in September, Middlesbrough 5-0 in October and Sunderland 5-0 in November.
So what’s gone wrong? The definitive strength of Mourinho’s Chelsea was that when they could not produce good football the players’ religious loyalty to the manager would get them points instead. Scolari, popular as he may be, has not created that same personality cult so important to the Mourinho era.
This ought not to be much of an issue: Chelsea players transferred their loyalties from Ranieri to Mourinho in 2004 with few teething problems. But that was when the new manager was equipped with Abramovich’s billions to bring his own players in. Scolari has bought in only the ageing Deco. Chelsea FC’s new found austerity – failing to spend the £30million earmarked for Robinho, or any of the £12m Wayne Bridge fee – has forced Scolari to operate with a squad not of his creating.
I am sure that with sufficient time and resources, Scolari could turn Chelsea into a fantastic team: even bringing the beautiful football that Abramovich always wanted to Stamford Bridge. But to be asked to do this, in his first season in England, with a squad still loyal to his predecessor-but-one, and no new purchases? It’s a task maybe even beyond the Special One.