When the church of tiki-taka was at its zenith, masquerading as some overarching philosophy of life and the universe, it seemed at times that Pep Guardiola would prefer not to score goals or do any defending at all. It wasn't so long ago that three midfielders were considered far too many in some parts of Europe. Then midfielders started appearing everywhere. First on the wings, then at centre-back, then up front.
There's no doubt that some truly incredible football was played by sides following the style, but they also had severe low points. The tiki-taka style seemed to be most praised for its uniformity and repetition, but the style could be severely grating. An unwanted alternative could be seen last year, however, in the Premier League (where else?), where Manchester United and Chelsea lined up in what was termed the 'black hole' formation.
Chelsea's struggles in this regard were not as widely-documented as United, as they hadn't been as long-running. But the Blues ludicrously failed to address the issue in the summer, with the adept Marco van Ginkel not proving a solution and the wish for Daniele De Rossi unfilfilled. Those faults were first on show against their fellow 4-2-0-3-1 enthusiasts United, and then in back-to-back defeats against Everton and Basel.
Ironically then, if José Mourinho is not to be a failure at Chelsea, he will have to tread the path of the man he hoped to replace...but not in the manner he intended. He will have to do what Sir Alex Ferguson had mastered in recent years; the art of creating a winning team without a midfield.
Mourinho had gone into games with the desire to control matches. Without a midfield capable of doing this, a radically different style of management is needed. A great midfield like Real Madrid's can go into a game secure in their aim of controlling the game. A decent midfield will go into a game fired up by going toe-to-toe with the opposition. A nonexistant one has to go into the game knowing they will see little of the ball and be kept on a very short leash. It is nearly a very nearly sport altogether.
In tiki-taka, the highlight-reel stuff of despairing last-ditch tackles, hollywood passes and long-range screamers are eschewed in favour of focusing on the mundane, with control of the game the only priority. In short, a footballing version of fighting without fighting. The extreme alternative necessary to prevail with a complete inability to take charge of a game is the opposite - it's all of those things, fighting without anything else except fighting. The Begbie to Guardiola's Sun Tzu.
Winning a game without controlling it is not easy. Unfortunately, Mourinho also has a second positional problem up front, with Romelu Lukaku bafflingly shipped out on loan once again and a hugely risky gamble on Samuel Eto'o taking his place. Despite his age, a move for one of the great players of his generation is usually a safe one, but having moved to Anzhi, there were questions whether Eto'o was basically already in retirement. Mourinho had praised his hunger, but his appalling lack of concentration for Marco Streller's winner suggests he may have been wide of the mark.
If anyone can find a solution to these problems, it's Mourinho. But riches in the striking department were what Ferguson leaned on most heavily to compensate for a soft centre. Instead, Chelsea's power comes in their absurd collection of attacking midfielders, with Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata able to create and score at will, with Kevin de Bruyne and Willian potentially as good. These players can be matchwinners too, but they naturally struggle from a lack of supply as much as a goal-poacher.
Maybe Mourinho will, in his solution, develop some new brand of football to consign tiki-taka to the dustbin of history. His Inter team did something similar when they beat Barcelona, abandoning all notions of controlling a game and instead launching passes from deep for goalscorers like Eto'o and Diego Milito to steal ill-deserved goals, or for Wesley Sneijder to focus on the sole job of smashing in any loose balls around the area. It worked then, but this looks like that team in reverse. A new solution is needed. Any self-styled godfather of football management worth his salt should be able to find one.