Jose Mourinho's five-step plan to making Chelsea even better
Like him or loathe him, you can't deny that Jose Mourinho is a serial winner. His eighth title in 12 seasons is remarkable by any standards, but despite the obvious reservations about his pragmatic brand of football, his critics often cite one supposed flaw of his: Mourinho has never built a winning machine that has dominated an era, say in the manner of Pep Guardiola's Barcelona side which won two Champions League crowns.
At Stamford Bridge there's already groundwork for sustained success and in Eden Hazard, Mourinho has a genuine top-tier footballer around whom a side can be built upon. Without further ado, here's five ways Jose can make Chelsea Champions League challengers once again next season...
1) Buy another striker
Here is an indisputable fact: Diego Costa is an absolutely brilliant footballer. In the era of false nines and polished ball-playing centre-forwards, the Brazil-born Spain international is a throwback to the classic No.9: no thrills or frills, just ruthless brute force and predatory effectiveness. He is also a typical Mourinho player: part-time genuis, part-time wind-up merchant and never far away from controversy.
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Nineteen goals in 24 appearances emphasises his seamless adaptation to the Premier League, where he has stamped his authority on many matches (and Emre Can).
But there's one fairly big downside to Costa: his hamstrings are unreliable. He's been troubled by them all season (in fact, since the latter stages of the 2013/14 season at Atletico) and those naughty muscles of his have finally given way, ruling him out for a huge chunk of Chelsea's run-in. Loic Remy and Didier Drogba have both filled the role in his absence, but for all their efforts the Chelsea attack is much better with Costa's blood-and-thunder approach. There's the feeling that Remy isn't of the standard required at Chelsea and Drogba, for all his past achievements, is 37.
Counting on Costa's hamstrings isn't good enough for a team that will surely hope to compete on all four fronts next season. By contrast, Manchester City have four strikers in their squad, and although their effectiveness is definitely up for debate, the argument here is that they aren't wholly reliant on Sergio Aguero (even if the Argentine does make them infinitely better).
2) Learn how to kill off opponents
The hallmark of a Mourinho side, perhaps with the exception of his Real Madrid one, is its resoluteness in the face of attacking threats. His Inter Milan team will be forever remembered for their exploits in the second leg of the 2009/10 Champions League semi-final at the Camp Nou and, although they conceded late on, it was a masterful display of defensive doggedness made even more noteworthy when you consider Barca played with an extra man for most of it after Thiago Motta's dismissal.
It's therefore bewildering that Chelsea have lost points from winning positions this term. In fairness, it's an issue Mourinho has been grappling with since last year when he claimed even trained dummies could score against the Blues. John Terry's performances in central defence have rightfully earned him plaudits, but there's still an obvious flaw to the Blues this season: they've lost the lead 11 times; eight in 22 games in 2015. The 5-3 loss at White Hart Lane proved the first of many, when Harry Kane played like a man possessed. Sometimes even the most organised defences can't deal with players in 'the zone'.
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Two other games stick out as sore points. The 4-2 home reverse to Bradford in the FA Cup fourth round was a spectacular implosion, and uncharacteristic by Chelsea standards. Their hopes of Champions League progress was also crushed thanks to to their inability to close out the second leg against PSG at Stamford Bridge. Despite playing against 10 men for well over 90 minutes, the Blues relinquished their lead not once but twice, to similar headers from Thiago Silva and David Luiz. There are a number of factors contributing to this anomaly, but chief among them are the momentary lapses in concentration. It's highly unlikely they will see out games by passing their opponents into submission like Spain once did, but there's more than one way to skin a cat. Mourinho has introduced Kurt Zouma to shore things up in the closing stages of games, and while it hasn't completely solved the issue, it's an indication that he acknowledges there's a problem.