Belfast Telegraph

Matic shows why Mata's left Chelsea

By Sam Wallace

There are few individuals left at Chelsea who pre-date the Roman Abramovich regime of the last 11 years, but the masseur Billy McCulloch has been there since 2001 through nine different managers.

He is an uncomplicated soul, who happily assumes the role of court jester, but is also regarded as one of the best when it comes to massaging some of the most expensive glutes, calves and lats in football.

No manager under Abramovich has ever dreamt of moving him on, not least for the fact that he has proved popular with the dozens of famous footballers Chelsea have signed over the years.

As well as taking care of their aching muscles, McCulloch is on hand to slake the modern footballer's unquenchable thirst for the dreaded "banter". Entrusting him with the team talk, however, is not a move to which any of Jose Mourinho's predecessors have given consideration.

As ever with Mourinho, nothing is quite as it seems. His disclosure that he left the team talk to McCulloch came when he was asked about specific tactics in his press conference after Monday's win over Manchester City.

Mourinho was not so much looking to make an overnight star of McCulloch as create a useful diversion.

The Chelsea manager revels in his status as the Jedi knight of tactical innovation, but he is never keen to divulge the precise details.

The moment in the Etihad pressroom brought to mind other occasions when Mourinho has been asked what his legacy to coaching will be.

In his first spell at Chelsea, he would describe how every training session he had ever taken, and every matchday team he had ever set-up, was recorded in notebooks.

Notebooks that, he added, would only ever be seen by his son Jose junior, who, at 14, is a long way from becoming the third generation of managers from the Mourinho family.

Since he returned, Mourinho has claimed a new openness. In pre-season he discussed his pride in the Premier League managers who had graduated from his staff – Steve Clarke, Brendan Rodgers and Andre Villas-Boas.

Mourinho said that all had been given access to his methods and ideas, but added for clarity that there was only one original, "they can never put a pen drive in my brain".

Mourinho mentioned how he had sent on Demba Ba in injury time with the instructions that he should "mark Joe Hart if he comes up for corners".

These are the details that matter and, as it turned out, Ba's sole contribution was a clearing header as the pressure really increased late on.

Nemanja Matic, one of many in Chelsea's side who out-performed their City counterparts, said that the preparation had been vital. "We prepared very well," said Matic, who showed why Mourinho was happy to let Juan Mata join Manchester United last month. "The coach showed us some videos of Manchester City and of course they showed the quality they have, but also where they make mistakes. We cannot say what we prepared because it is only for us, but the preparation was very good and of a high quality.

"To play in a game like this he prepared us very well, as you saw on the pitch. Everyone knew what they were meant to do."

It was a classic Mourinho game-plan. There was a specific job for every one of his outfield players when the team were in possession of the ball, and then, just as importantly, a critical role to play when they were without it.

Space was closed off to City, starting from the front with Samuel Eto'o, but especially with Eden Hazard who shut down the channels that Pablo Zabaleta and Jesus Navas usually exploit.

"We spent a couple of days on it," John Terry said, "and this is where he (Mourinho) comes into his own, working on their strengths and weaknesses."

When Chelsea did manage to steal the ball and break forward, Mourinho would direct Matic and David Luiz to hold their positions. He permitted the front four to commit to the attack, and occasionally one full-back, but in all respects the system was king.

One of Mourinho's strengths, according to players, is that he often correctly predicts the ebb and flow of a game in his pre-match briefings: When a team is likely to become tired; The likelihood of one opponent to make a mistake.

Samuel Eto'o credited Mourinho with encouraging him to pressure Timo Hildebrand in the Champions League game against Schalke this season.

The goalkeeper duly lingered too long on the ball, striking it against the striker from where it bounced in to the goal.

No one would claim he is perfect. But Monday night showed the team is changing, evident in his decision to leave both Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole as unused substitutes. Overall, the result added to the lustre of his reputation as the manager who can pull off a big result.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph