Mourinho returns to golden age form - entertaining off the pitch, not so much on it

Jamie McDonald

José Mourinho was back to his best form in the press conference following his side's narrow victory against Aston Villa, but on the pitch his side weren't so entertaining.

It's not known whether the fawning, borderline homoerotic eulogies on Jose Mourinho's return were based on the man we saw at Chelsea or the man he'd become at Real Madrid, but now we know that we've definitely got the latter.

The man was in entertaining form after last night's game, basically calling Aston Villa 2009-era Bolton Wanderers ("They don't play a lot, but they fought a lot. They have their style which is not my style"), with Christian Benteke as their Kevin Davies ("he makes a lot of fouls and the man who plays against him also has to make a lot of fouls.") Paul Lambert, conversely, was cast as a more obnoxious version of himself ("he reminds me of me at his age. Now I complain with some decisions, at his I complained with every decision.")

More from our team siteChelsea blog We Ain't Got No History

There seemed to be no need for such belligerence. Lambert's transformation of Villa has been remarkable, and they have looked like an excellent team in their two games so far, but that was why Mourinho chose his words so carefully. It was a classic gambit, used to great effect by both Alex Ferguson and himself, a controversial press conference and needless hostility to detract from a lacklustre performance from his own side.

The season may only be two games in for his side, but they've been by far the least impressive of the big three. Manchester United won a difficult game in Swansea and to some extent showed they can still comfortably emerge victorious while not playing brilliantly. Manchester City swatted aside Newcastle United with remarkable ease. Chelsea shut up shop at 2-0 against Hull City, and needed two refereeing atrocities to scrape a home win against Aston Villa.

Of course, 2-0 wins were the hallmark of Mourinho's first reign at Chelsea, although we may have forgotten that with the nature of the 'welcome home' party. Let's not kid ourselves here - Mourinho's Chelsea may have been frighteningly good, but they were also the most horrible games in the world to watch. United and City have their referee-assisted victories and their unwatchable home 2-0s, sure, but at least they throw in the odd 3-2 or 4-3 eveyr now and then.

Perhaps we should've been careful what we wished for. If Mourinho continues down this route, he'll have moved away from his far more entertaining Real Madrid days (despite, oddly, having a team that was on paper far better suited to discipline and defence in Spain.) Maybe he'll open things up a bit once the team's a bit more settled and he has his eye in. Maybe he's having some sort of midlife crisis and wants to relive his glory days - some people buy a Harley Davidson, some people shut up shop against Steve Bruce's Hull City at 2-0. Whatever makes you feel young.

It's possible that it'll make for a more entertaining season, of course. Alex Ferguson seemed to ensure United paced themselves in his final years, and it was a positive when his side failed to allow Swansea a route back into the game last weekend. As we saw at Aston Villa, doing so is often an invitation for the opposition to take the initiative. And it's worth questioning whether what worked in 2004 will work in 2013.

The Premier League has changed much since then. Manchester United's starting eleven against Chelsea in August 2004 was as follows: Howard, Neville, O'Shea, Silvestre, Fortune, Miller, Keane, Djemba-Djemba, Giggs, Scholes, Smith. It's outstandingly poor compared to today's outfit. And that was a team that comfortably beat mid-table sides - the rest of the league back then were a nasty set of horrible, negative teams that seemed to have no intention of winning any game against the top four. They were bad days, and we should be glad they're gone.

Now, there are more good teams than ever. Aston Villa will be mid-table. So will Swansea City, Everton and Southampton, against whom wins are far from guaranteed. There's simply a lot more money and a lot more quality in the league now than before, and the result has been seen a lot more at the lower end of the table. Football is a game of fine margins, ever-finer towards the top tier. Given the same amount of money, a small club can better themselves far more effectively than a big club.

So, while Mourinho may seem to want to relive his glory days, time will tell. It may just be an opening gambit to ensure he doesn't fall behind early, but there's a point to be made that it's not a viable strategy in the Premier League anymore. Times have changed - whether the José Mourinho of old can still flourish in them, we'll soon find out.

* * *

Manchester City may have spent the best part of £100m this season while barely improving their team, but at least they have the money to do it. Barcelona and Real Madrid appear to have reduced themselves to poverty for the privelege of signing two men that are carbon copies of superior players they already have, who may actively disrupt their play by not fitting in the same team.

Real Madrid's was perhaps more understandable. They had a well-balanced team, and arguably needed just another match-winner to help them out. Yet they already have the best match-winner in the game in Cristiano Ronaldo, who they may struggle to accomodate with Gareth Bale, and the need for a striker was far more pressing. Barcelona, meanwhile, don't have a balanced team at all. They desperately needed a defensive upgrade, and now look to have foregone the opportunity to acquire one at the possible expense of unsettling Cesc Fabregas.

The midfielder started on the bench for their draw against Atletico Madrid, which may give Manchester United some hope in their reported plan to make a bid once it's clear that he won't be a key member of their squad. There are questions over the long-term sustainability of both sides business plans, but whether they're the only clubs who seem to make true marquee signings anymore is a sign of their prestige of their idiocy is open to question.

* * *

There's as much to be said in taking apart a complete plane crash of a side like Fenerbahce as there is in a pre-season defeat of the Taiwanese Select XI, with the club not exactly having the most smooth running of times recently. So it was amusing to see Arsenal fans act like Arsenal fans, proclaiming Aaron Ramsey as world-class shortly after presumably insisting the exact opposite last weekend. Perhaps Arsene Wenger is of the same mindset. It would certainly go a long way to explaining this transfer window.

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