At the end of a week in which the Premier League’s lack of street wisdom was exposed in European competition, Chelsea showed how it should be done. Jose Mourinho turned the Capital One Cup final into a demonstration of the art of winning. You could, I suppose, define it as the knack of making a good team – in this case, Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur - look ordinary.
Spurs didn’t play badly at all. It was just that Chelsea prevented them from repeating the flow of attack that washed over Mourinho’s men in the 5-3 Premier League game at White Hart Lane. Cut were so many of the lines of communication between the engine-room, consisting of Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb, and heavy weaponry led by Harry Kane. Christian Eriksen hit the crossbar with a free-kick but, for all the strivings that proved the Dane a big-occasion performer, his customary and vital link with Kane was expertly disrupted.
This is what clever coaches do and Mourinho, after a trophy-deficient first season back in England, has Chelsea in the habit again. One down, two to go. And, with the Premier title looking safer than ever after Manchester City’s defeat at Liverpool, it could be that Bradford City will end the season with the unique distinction of having denied Mourinho’s side a piece of silverware. Maybe they will have to share the honour with a Real Madrid or Bayern Munich; we shall see. But at Wembley there was a sense that the days of vulnerability, of conceding four goals to Bradford in the FA Cup or five at the Lane, have gone.
This was Chelsea in the heart-breaking mode that more accurately reflects Mourinho’s philosophy. He was quoted by Jeremy Wilson in the Telegraph:
‘’I am not fundamentalist in football. People ask me ‘What is your model of play?’. I say ‘Model of play against who? When? With which players? My model of play is that I have to find where is the weakness of my opponent and where is his strength’.’’
So it was a compliment he paid Spurs and, in particular, Eriksen, by using two defensive midfielders. By common consent the outstanding performer in this role this season has been Nemanja Matic. But Matic played in the League match at Tottenham and was, in any case, suspended for the final after his furious reaction to Burnley striker Ashley Barnes’s challenge the previous weekend. While Ramires seemed the natural replacement, Mourinho decided that a further obstacle to the Eriksen/Kane relationship was required and brought in Kurt Zouma.
The young Frenchman has already been compared to an illustrious forerunner in the Chelsea defence and Mourinho, amid the joy of victory, hailed ‘’our new Marcel Desailly’’. Well, Zouma didn’t quite give as riotous a performance as Desailly delivered for Milan in their 4-0 Champions League final over Barcelona in 1994 – but he did show an ability, characteristic of Desailly, to switch from defence to midfield. After a patchy start, he settled and you have the feeling that he could be a future captain of the club.
Not that Chelsea want to contemplate the retirement of their current captain; John Terry gave an outstanding display, both opening the scoring and closing the doors on a Spurs side who had edged the 45 scoreless minutes before the first of two deflected goals. Then we saw the aspects of the game only a Mourinho could love. At the Lane his team had enjoyed the majority of possession and committed the fewer fouls and lost. At Wembley everything was the other way round. It wasn’t the football that makes the Premier League such a box-office hit. But it may help to explain why Chelsea tend to travel better than some others.