In recent years, Jose Mourinho has probably taken the whole ‘defence wins you games’ cliche a little too far.
A lot of his recent teams have been hyper-focused on defending – you only need to look at the criticism of his Tottenham side for how infuriating they can be to watch at times – but in the boss’ defence, he has an incredible reason to play the way he does.
In the 2004/05 season, his first in England, Mourinho’s Chelsea conceded just 15 goals en route to winning their first Premier League title and flipping English football upside down.
With Petr Cech in goal and John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho at the heart of the defence, Chelsea were unbeatable…almost. They lost just once all season – a 1-0 defeat to Manchester City in gameweek nine – and that was it. Chelsea rode their unbreakable defence all the way to a historic title.
The Blues were just so, so good. Conceding 15 goals was simply ridiculous, and it’s turned both 2004/05 Chelsea and Mourinho into the gold standard against which every elite team are compared.
Arsenal‘s Invincibles in 2003/04? 26 goals against.
Manchester United‘s title-winning 2007/08 side? 22.
2017/18 Man City? The team who won 100 points? 27.
The 2019/20 Liverpool side sometimes described as the best team in league history? 33.
This City team currently odds-on to win the treble? They hit 16 in their 26th match.
Not only are those numbers more than 15, but they’re considerably higher. Nobody, not even any of the best teams the league has ever produced, has come anywhere close to equalling that return. It’s ridiculous.
It’s impossible to imagine what kind of defence would be needed to match 2004/05 Chelsea. Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Virgil van Dijk and Vincent Kompany are four of many big names who have fallen short.
Whenever anyone wonders why Mourinho is so infatuated with defending, it’s because such an approach is what took his career to the next level. Sure, winning the Premier League title did him well, but to shatter records and build an unrivalled behemoth was more important.
Whenever any new all-time great starts to emerge, Mourinho and Chelsea’s names are there. Sure, this year’s City side might have won 20 games on the bounce, but they’ve come up short in the goals conceded column, just as the rest of the all-time greats have done.
Defence does win you games, it’s true. If you concede 15 goals across a 38-game season, you’re in with a good chance of winning it all, and Mourinho knows that better than anybody on the planet.
He may well dream of matching that tally with another team, but it’s not going to happen. It will never happen. The kind of quality needed to ship just 15 goals in a season does not exist and may well never exist again.
Next year, the comparisons will be back. Whichever team climbs to the top of the standings will be compared to Chelsea yet again, and as is always a case, they’ll come up short.
You may not like what Mourinho is doing these days, but deep down, there’s a method to all his madness.