Drogba leads the rotation revolution
Chelsea fans have not seen the last of the Tinkerman, though he walks in different shoes today. Yet unlike his predecessor Claudio Ranieri — who often gave the impression of a gambler chasing his losses with his numerous and seemingly haphazard changes — Jose Mourinho’s card sharpness is thanks to the minutiae of his pre-match preparations.
Mourinho has stated that the most important man on his backroom staff is Andre Villas, the chief scout who prepares five-page reports on each of his opponents.
Fittingly, for a reformed addict of the computer game Championship Manager, each Villas dossier details opponents’ strengths and particularly their weaknesses, the template on which Mourinho builds his team selection and tactics. It means Mourinho sides can differ greatly from game to game.
‘Mourinho likes to rotate his teams very much,” said Sergio Krithinas, of the Portuguese national newspaper 24 Horas.
‘It is not always just to rest players but because he likes to keep up the competition in the squad.”
So confident is Mourinho in Villas’s reports that two days before a crunch visit to Sporting Lisbon last season he talked reporters through his opponents’ likely line-up and substitution strategy. Porto went on to secure the draw that preserved their five-point lead at the top of the table.
Whether or not Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United, his first Premiership opponents, would be unsettled by such a tactic, they can expect Mourinho to have prepared exhaustively for that August 14 test. ‘Mourinho prepares everything; he knows the weak points of each team and each opponent,” said Krithinas.
‘His favourite line-up at Porto was 4-3-3. He likes to use two wingers in attack. He couldn’t at Porto because Derlei was injured and he had to change, with the wingers in the midfield,” he added.
That favoured tactic explains the reluctance of Mourinho to reveal how the Blues’ forwards might line up next season. The Portuguese manager insists he does not know, suggesting that Arjen Robben and Damien Duff might play in tandem, or not at all. The Dutch player was just as reticent.
‘The coach says the only thing I have to do is prove myself,” said Robben, whose £12-million transfer from PSV Eindhoven to Chelsea had been agreed before Mourinho joined. ‘I can play up front, on the left, behind the strikers, but I have to show what I’m capable of and we will see.”
With Duff still suffering from a shoulder injury and unlikely to be fit for the opening match, it is fair to assume that Robben will feature. He will most likely play on the left, with his £5,4-million former PSV teammate Mateja Kezman in a withdrawn role.
Kezman has already opened his account with Chelsea, having scored his side’s goal in last Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Oxford, and he possesses a self-assurance reminiscent of Mourinho’s. ‘I think I have quality enough to show in the next few seasons,” he said.
‘It’s a totally different league but it’s important also that I was successful in Yugoslavia before I went to Holland. I scored more than 30 goals last season and before that I broke all the records in Holland football. So I am ready.”
Though not tall, both Kezman and Robben are quick and have an eye for a pass and the goal. They will work in concert, with Didier Drogba to spearhead the attack.
Mourinho is a long-term admirer of the Ivorian Drogba, and is convinced the £24-million that brought him from Marseille is not excessive.
‘I tried to sign him for Porto two years ago but I did not have enough money to do it,” said the manager.
‘I think we will only know when a player is cheap or expensive at the end of their contract. Sometimes you pay £5-million for a player, you think he is very cheap and then he’s the most expensive player in history because he never plays.”
Mourinho is sure that the competitiveness of the Premiership in comparison with the French league — where the £7-million former Rennes goalkeeper Petr Cech also played — will be no obstacle as the players try to gel. ‘I don’t [worry about players’] nationalities, age or size, I just go for profiles,” he said.
Tiago Mendes, who completed an £8-million move from Benfica this week, has the profile to edge Joe Cole out of the starting line-up for United’s visit, but Mourinho will also keep faith with several players from the Ranieri era.
Frank Lampard, who on Tuesday confirmed his intention to end the ‘drawn-out process” of his contract negotiations and agree a £75 000-a-week extension to remain at Stamford Bridge, is also certain to start. Eidur Gudjohnsen, who signed a new four-year deal this week, should also be prominent though he may begin the season on the bench.
The defence will see only one change from last season, with the £13,2-million Paulo Ferreira replacing Glen Johnson as first-choice right-back.
Yet the adaptability of Mourinho’s system requires tactical flexibility, and he will revert to 4-4-2 whenever he feels it suits. As to when precisely that is, he will wait for the nod from Villas. —