Pitchside

Mourinho’s tactics can help Chelsea grind their way to Premier League title

Pitchside

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This season's Premier League title race has been one of the most thrilling in memory - and the best thing is that it's far from over.

Liverpool currently hold their fate in their own hands after a scintillating 3-2 win over Manchester City at Anfield, and four wins from their last four games will make them champions for the first time in 24 seasons.

Few would begrudge Liverpool fans the title in this year of all years, with Steven Gerrard's tears after the City victory signifying the weight of the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster for all those associated with the club.

Brendan Rodgers' side have scored an astonishing 93 goals in 34 games for a goal difference of +51, while City are not far behind; they have netted 88, but their superior defence gives them a difference of +54.

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But in between them, lurking between the battle of the net-bulgers, sit Jose Mourinho's Chelsea side. Four wins from four - including a trip to Anfield - would hand the championship to Mourinho's men, especially following Man City’s slip-up against Sunderland on Wednesday evening; though few have come forward in their support for the Blues' tactics this season.

City boss Manuel Pellegrini believes neutrals and purists would baulk at Mourinho lifting the trophy come May, stating: "It would be very disappointing, for football, for the fans, for everyone.

"I think that the most attractive football, the more goals you can score, should be rewarded.

"I'm not saying it's not important to defend very well. Football is attacking and defending. But I think that big teams must play as big teams."

The Blues have hit 22 fewer goals than City, but are just two points behind Liverpool. Their strength this season has been in defence, where they have conceded just 24 league goals.

Their ability to secure tight wins was shown in Sunday's 1-0 victory over 10-man Swansea, with Demba Ba's second-half strike keeping the pressure on Liverpool.

Jamie Redknapp told Sky Sports after the game: “[Chelsea] are the ultimate grinders. That’s not meant to be disrespectful – it’s just what they do brilliantly.

“Mourinho brought John Obi Mikel on when other managers, instead of bringing on a defensive midfielder, may have brought on another attacker. But that’s just the mind-set of the manager.

“Chelsea have the ability to grind out results. They defend well, they keep clean sheets and they have pace. Mourinho has questioned his forwards all season but Demba Ba has come up trumps for him this week with big, big goals.”

It is no secret that Mourinho does not rate his forwards, even going so far as to suggest two weeks ago that his squad lacked a "real" forward - and as Ba has proved against Paris Saint-Germain and now the Swans, that is not entirely accurate.

Still, the Blues are in the semi-finals of the Champions League - facing up against long-term target Diego Costa for Atletico Madrid - and well in the hunt for the domestic title.

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It is not entirely accurate to think of all Mourinho's side as goal-shy: after all, his title-winning Real Madrid team last season broke the record for most goals scored in La Liga, with 109. The Special One is the ultimate pragmatist, turning his sides into successes with whatever (admittedly expensive) tools are at hand.

Roman Abramovich has always craved success at Chelsea, but more than that, he has craved success with style. Many managers have been and gone at Stamford Bridge as the billionaire continues his quest to turn the team into an English Barcelona - well, at least not the current Blaugranas side.

The 51-year-old Portuguese coach seemed to buy into that upon his return to the club, though results have, predictably, seen the return of the real Mourinho.

December was the month when the mask fell, with Chelsea shipping 10 goals in five games, including a shock Capital One Cup defeat at Sunderland which prompted the Blues boss to state: "Football is about getting results and it's quite frustrating as we may have to take a step back in order to be more consistent at the back.

"If I want to win 1-0 I think I can as I think it is one of the easiest things in football. It is not so difficult, as you don't give players the chance to express themselves."

Since that game on December 18th, Chelsea have conceded just six goals in the top flight, and never more than one in a single 90 minutes. That run has seen them secure 13 wins - including over Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Man City, Everton and Spurs - three draws and two defeats to leave them in the hunt.

It is of no surprise that after Eden Hazard - who has been the side's star forward with 14 goals and seven assists - sits atop the Squawka Performance Score for the club with 1257, but the following players are John Terry (913), Gary Cahill (898), Branislav Ivanovic (735) and Petr Cech (654). Cesar Azpilicueta - now first-choice left-back - sits seventh (459) due to a disjointed season, but that back five have been integral to Mourinho's plans.

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Chelsea have secured league wins by a one-goal margin on nine occasions, and by two goals seven times. The club have won games by three or more goals on seven occasions - including a 6-0 drubbing of Arsenal in March - so it is wrong to simply think of the Blues as a wounded animal limping towards the finish line.

More so, Mourinho's side are like crocodiles, expend their energy in one brutal moment. Like the reptiles, Chelsea have been at their most vulnerable when attacking for too long, preferring to lie in wait and then pounce.

This approach came at their expense twice in March, however, losing 1-0 at both Aston Villa and Crystal Palace, two sides who set up well defensively and countered.

Chelsea are at their best this season when they take on the role of the underdog, grinding out victories as Redknapp says. With a strong defence and quick attackers, Mourinho is attempting to build a team that lurks in silence, draws teams in, and then strikes in a flash.

There are few neutrals that would care to see Mourinho's reptilian tactics prosper over the brilliant Liverpool, or even the chaotic Man City, yet Chelsea could well end the season as double winners. The Portuguese coach showed his hand back in December, and has played it superbly until now.

They may be grinders, but if the Blues go on and win at Anfield and lift yet more silverware, it's unlikely their fans will care how Jose served it up.

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