Chelsea is well on its way to winning the Premier League. It’s largely on the basis of being far and away the best team in England this season, a trait that was on display in its 1-0 win over Manchester United on Saturday.
José Mourinho sent out a team that wasn’t especially interested in being entertaining. It was a tactic we’ve seen from the Chelsea manager plenty of times before. Defend at all costs, take away the other team’s best attacking options and get a point en route to another title. A point may not be exciting, especially at home, but when you have a comfortable lead atop the table, you don’t need much else.
In addition to the Blues’ typical four-man back line, Kurt Zouma was deployed as a midfielder. His job was basically to take away the aerial threat of Maruoane Fellaini – the tall, lanky, launch-it-to-me-even-though-I’m-not-playing-striker Belgian Louis van Gaal uses high in midfield. Doing so pushed Cesc Fabregas further up the field, weakening the attack even more. On top of it all, Didier Drogba started at striker. The 37-year-old isn’t potent offensively anymore.
Mourinho’s edict was clear: defend, defend and defend some more. If we’re going to do anything to challenge David de Gea, it will be with Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry, Nemanja Matic, Zouma and Drogba being very large humans on set pieces. Thrilling, ain’t it?
Defensively, everything went according to plan. Zouma erased Fellaini and the Red Devils’ attempt to win the midfield with skill was neutralized by the Blues’ range and physicality. Manchester United struggled to find a way through, even with a midfield of Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney, Ander Herrera, Ashley Young and Fellaini – a quintet that would have allowed them to break down most defenses. But Chelsea isn’t most defenses, and Mourinho’s tactics completely shut down the Red Devils.
Mourinho’s plans weren’t perfect. Chelsea got nothing off of set pieces, but that wasn’t the priority, either. Chelsea’s priority was to defend. Shut United down, take the 0-0 draw and get the point they were seeking. Job done.
Only fortunately, and somewhat unintentionally, Chelsea got more than that. One gorgeous move forward, with Oscar playing Eden Hazard on goal, saw the ball end in the back of the net and deliver the Blues a win. It was better than Mourinho could have hoped. Chelsea didn’t even need that set piece to get the win it didn’t even really want.
It was an exhibition in everything that makes Chelsea so good: a strong defense, coordinated by arguably the world’s best manager – a person who knows how to make it through a season. The team is versatile, capable of playing its match or letting its opponents completely dictate the game. And when necessary, its brilliant attackers, led by Hazard, can win matches the team may not even care too much about.
It may not be the most exciting way to a title, but it would be difficult to find one as efficient. And you won’t hear a single Chelsea player complaining with his winner’s medal.