What was predicted at the start of José Mourinho's return to Chelsea, and gradually brought to life after a few early hiccups, has now come to pass. The dreaded mid-2000s Blue Machine, that marched unstoppably forwards and made themselves impossible to stop, is well underway once more in 2014. There were reasons to think it wouldn't happen -- his team at Real Madrid were very different, true. And yes, the overall quality of the Premier League is so much greater than those dark noughties days that raking up points tallies like that would be far more impressive. But José is José.
This is perhaps the source of some of Mourinho's perceived negativity. Some clubs create a history from recovering from disasters, somehow managing to haul themselves out from the depths of despair in impossible circumstances. Aside from the obvious example, Mourinho's counterpart Roberto Mancini could be classed as another. After all, when Sergio Aguero scored that famous goal, he was not only winning the title but also saving Manchester City from a rather humiliating capitulation on the final day. Last night, Galatasaray got back into the game thanks to Mancini's tactical changes -- although bringing on Yekta Kurtulus and Semih Kaya were just as much rectifying blunders that he had made with the initial selection.
Mourinho, in contrast, earns his keep and builds his legends through simply not making such errors in the first place. Mourinho teams have no storied fightbacks from three-nil down, because Mourinho teams do not end up three-nil down. It won't make the plot of any Alexandre Dumas novels, but it's just as, if not more effective at getting the required results.
Just as Manchester United had won titles in recent years by being the least likely to suffer runs of poor form, Chelsea have progressed at the expense of their rivals due to the Mourinho-induced ability to never suffer a complete disaster of a performance. Despite the presence of David Luiz, John Terry et al, it's difficult to imagine this Chelsea team blundering like Chelsea or Arsenal did.
That fact has kept Chelsea as being by far the likeliest team in the Premier League to advance to the Quarter-Finals. They are very much a work in progress, and remain a long way from being the best side in Europe. If there is one difference between Mourinho's first and second reigns at Stamford Bridge, it is the way the same strategy is being used -- before, it worked wonders in the league, but now, it seems better suited to Europe.
This is perhaps due to the aforementioned drastic rise in quality in the mean Premier League side in the last decade. Raking up that kind of consistency is rare (even if it was managed last year by an infinitely worse side, with Ferguson orchestrating things like he was on a mission from god), and a blunder in the league can only ever be worth a three-point setback, which is soon recovered from. But as Arsenal and Manchester City's guts and glory begin to fade, Chelsea are growing, as evidenced with their late victory over Everton.
It might end up that doing well in Europe costs Chelsea their momentum in the league, but they've shown for most of the season they are the strongest team mentally, and that is almost always the difference in title chases. But that advantage in quality in England can be used as a boost for Mourinho to propel his team on to greater European success than they enjoyed the first time around. A more malleable (and less hostile) outfit than at Real Madrid will give him the chance to do what he hasn't done before -- win, and then win again, with the same outfit. It might not be the most exciting way anybody's done it, but it will be no less impressive.