Teams of the Decade #13: Chelsea 2004-06
Everyone knows that Arsenal went unbeaten in 2003/04, but it’s worth pointing out that Chelsea only lost one game the next season, a surprise 0-1 defeat away at Manchester City. OK so, Jose Mourinho had inherited a great squad, which had been added to over the summer with the likes of Cech, Drogba, Carvalho and Ferreira, but to take charge of a side and lead it so convincingly to the title (they won it by 12 points) should be commended. That season’s Chelsea side also hold the record for the fewest goals conceded in a Premiership season – just 15 in 38 games, whilst 25 clean sheets is also a Premiership record.
Chelsea retained the title the next season, losing four more games, but boasting a near-100% home record, a draw against Charlton the only occasion they didn’t win at home all season. They were less dominant in the league, but probably played more expansive, attacking football (although they scored the same number of goals as in the previous campaign).
Mourinho played a 4-3-3 system that worked so well because most English teams were still fixated on playing 4-4-2, which Chelsea’s system worked brilliantly against.
As Mourinho has said,
‘Look, if I have a triangle in midfield – Claude Makelele behind and two others just in front – I will always have an advantage against a pure 4-4-2 where the central midfielders are side by side. That’s because I will always have an extra man. It starts with Makelele, who is between the lines. If nobody comes to him he can see the whole pitch and has time. If he gets closed down it means one of the two other central midfielders is open. If they are closed down and the other team’s wingers come inside to help, it means there is space now for us on the flank, either for our own wingers or for our full-backs. There is nothing a pure 4-4-2 can do to stop things’.
It perhaps seems foolish to try and expand on that, but Mourinho also had the luxury of a striker who could worry two centre-backs at the same time, crucial in creating the ‘extra man’ he speaks about in midfield.
Chelsea were yet another side who focussed on getting their full-backs forward to support the attacking players, who generally looked to cross the ball rather than get into goalscoring positions themselves. The wide players became adept at drawing the full-backs infield in order to create space, which would then allow the full-backs room to pick out a cross for Drogba.
Another feature of Mourinho’s side was his willingness to play Eidur Gudjohnsen, a striker, as the additional midfield player alongside Frank Lampard at times. This created a formation closer to 4-1-4-1, and it’s interesting to note that Frank Lampard played well even when he had a more attacking player alongside him. Mourinho was also keen for his wingers to frequently switch wings, which Arjen Robben and Joe Cole did to better effect than Damien Duff or Shaun Wright-Phillips – the Dutchman in particular being almost unplayable at times.
This video sums up the football they played in 04/05…
…whilst this one shows Joe Cole scoring a superb individual goal on the day they sealed the title in 05/06, a 3-0 victory over their nearest challengers, Manchester United.