When Loïc Rémy and Sergio Agüero scored within four minutes of each other at the end of Saturday’s first half, we had reason to believe today’s showdown could be more than a José Mourinho special. We should have been more modest. When it comes to contriving outcomes, Mourinho is far more powerful than we are, particularly on the soccer field. After years of watching his teams play for one point in similar scenarios, Mourinho predictably returned to his old staple. Even as Chelsea scored the day’s first goal, history said the Blues would be content with a draw.
Ultimately, that’s what the league leaders got, which would normally be a disappointing result for such a talented team at home. But Chelsea was not only facing second place Manchester City. It was coming off 120 minutes mid-week against Liverpool. The teams was without Cesc Fábregas (injured) and Diego Costa (suspended). It also had a five-point lead on the defending champions at the top of the table. That today’s 1-1 didn’t allow City to gain any ground (in the teams’ last meeting of the season) could prove vital in this year’s title race.
It’s the type of season management we’ve come to expect from Mourinho, who is more than willing to take the air out of the ball, as he did last year on his return to Old Trafford. That game, highly anticipated for an array of reasons, was ultimately derided as one of the worst games of the season, though Mourinho’s never cowered from that type of ire. The Special One seems to bask in the manipulation, relishing a control that reminds press, opponent, and audience alike: The ultimate decision lies with him. Mourinho decides when soccer can be “fun.”
Today at Stamford Bridge, Mourinho chose pragmatism. His team only managed three shots (Manchester City: 10). City had 56.4 percent of the ball, and forced eight corners to Chelsea’s one. Thibaut Courtois had to make four saves; Joe Hart, one.
Still, Chelsea was able to grind out the result it needed, a quality that may distinguish it at season’s end. Over 180 minutes between the teams this season, Chelsea and City have each scored two goals. Head-to-head, they’re equals. Across the broader sample, however, Chelsea’s built its five-point lead.
It’s worth remembering that it was against Sunderland and Norwich City that Chelsea stumbled last season, not Liverpool or Manchester City. The Blues defeated both its title rivals in the second half of the 2013-14 campaign, both wins coming on the road.
Historically, however, Mourinho’s done a better job of keeping his team focused. This season, with Chelsea expected to compete for the title from the start, Mourinho expects this team to perform like a Mourinho squad. Today was a José Mourinho special.