As Chelsea and Manchester United face off in the FA Cup quarterfinal on Monday, all eyes will likely be on United manager Jose Mourinho. Mourinho was with Chelsea last season and after a disappointing season, was fired midway through the season.
Chelsea improved slightly after Mourinho was sacked but still finished a shocking 10th place and didn’t come close to qualifying for any European competitions.
Because of this, Mourinho was obviously going to be asked in his pregame press conference about his final season with Chelsea since they are now top of the table and apart from a few additions, mostly have the same players Mourinho had last year and the year before that when Chelsea won the Premier League title.
Mourinho mentioned Chelsea having a “position of privilege” this season because they don’t have to travel and play additional games throughout Europe. In comparison, entering Monday’s FA Cup game, Chelsea has played 33 games while United has played 44. Mourinho’s Manchester United team qualified for the UEFA Europa League and have had to travel to Ukraine, Netherlands, Turkey, France and Russia.
Mourinho has a point, although that doesn’t tell the complete story. By simply saying no European competition caused Chelsea to eclipse last season’s 50 point season by mid-January and be up by 10 points in the Premier League over Tottenham and Manchester City, would be disrespectful toward Antonio Conte and what he has been able to do to tweak Chelsea and turn them into a defensive powerhouse.
Some of Chelsea’s fortune this season does have to do with playing 11 fewer games than a team like Manchester United. Both are talented teams but that can help explain why one team is first in the Premier League with 66 points and the other is sixth with 49 points. Mourinho points out that Liverpool was in the same situation during the 2013-14 season and almost won the Premier League after finishing seventh the season before.
But a big difference between that Liverpool team and this Chelsea team is that it was largely the same Liverpool team with the same manager back then whereas Chelsea sacked Mourinho for Conte. Also, Chelsea was never a terrible team. They had the talent and ability to win the Premier League last season just like they did the season before. The issue was a sudden disconnect between the players and Mourinho that caused them to be terrible.
Mourinho places blame on both the players and himself and we can debate all day as to who was more at fault for last season, but for whatever reason, both sides just couldn’t work with the other and like every player/coach situation, the owner isn’t releasing the players so Mourinho was gone.
But if you look at Chelsea’s earlier season, they weren’t always the dominating league leaders they have been over the past few months. The team was much improved over last season and were certainly top four quality but it wasn’t until Conte changed up the formation and played three out the back line with a couple wing backs with the freedom to sometimes have five out the back and bring a lethal counterattack. Since that change after their 3-0 loss to Arsenal in the end of September, Chelsea has gone 21-2-2 in all competitions after going 5-1-2 in the first two months.
So is Chelsea in a “position of privilege?” I think that depends on whether you think they could win the Premier League if they were in Champions League this season. As far as Mourinho, he doesn’t really care nor should he. He has a Manchester United team who is still “technically” in line to win four trophies. They already won the EFL Cup, may go to the FA Cup semifinals as well as the Europa League quarterfinals if they beat Rostov. Their Premier League chances are all but over but Mourinho is having a better time with United this season than with Chelsea last season. So, whatever is taking place at Stamford Bridge doesn’t and shouldn’t concern Jose Mourinho. His goal is to have Manchester United competing with Chelsea at the top of the table next season.