Why Chelsea can rule in Jose Mourinho's second season
It was a mantra Jose Mourinho repeated more than any other last season, arguably making him more consistent than his Chelsea team.
He said it after big wins over Manchester City, big defeats against Atletico Madrid and at many more mundane press conferences in between.
"Next season will be better," Mourinho claimed.
"Everything is coming to us. I can imagine – more than imagine, believe, really – that we are going to have a really strong team, starting from day one with everybody."
The problem with endlessly repeating it then is that it now creates real pressure to actually prove it. That will have only increased because of the nature of Chelsea's transfer business, transforming them into clear title favourites. There is also the fact another failure would make it five years without a league title for Roman Abramovich, and three for Mourinho. Both periods would represent the longest barren spans of their spells in the game, so time is against them.
It is also time, however, that may be with Mourinho.
The positive for Chelsea is that there is plenty of proof his second season at clubs is always his best. At FC Porto and Internazionale, it was then that he won those landmark Champions Leagues. At Real Madrid, he finally beat Pep Guardiola's Barcelona to the Spanish title, while breaking points and scoring records.
The only exception was Chelsea in 2005-06, when they didn't claim any extra cups and won the league with four fewer points than 2004-05, but Mourinho even has an explanation for that.
"In our second season, we killed it from day one." That is the expectation for this campaign.
The entire idea of the second season being better has become another repeated mantra from the manager's career, with Mourinho emphasising that too. Ricardo Carvalho is one of many of his former players to echo the words.
"With him you learn every day," the former Porto, Chelsea and Real Madrid defender has said. "His second years are better than his first because the players know each other better."
Mourinho also knows his squad better, as he has explained.
"After one season, we can analyse in a cold way, look at 12 months, 60 matches."
That is what Mourinho has done, having handed in a forensic review of Chelsea's 2013-14 campaign in the week after it finished, outlining transfer suggestions. There has been surprise at the extent of the comings and goings, especially given the departures of supposed Mourinho stalwarts like Frank Lampard, but it is in keeping with the manager's career. Virtually every second summer has seen a statement, in which Mourinho finalised his best squads. At Porto in 2003, he secured a rare promise from the president that they would for once not sell "one single player". At Inter in 2009, he someway got lucky in selling Zlatan Ibrahimovic for so much, before being able to bring in Samuel Eto'o, Diego Milito and Wesley Sneijder. Even at Real Madrid in 2011, Mourinho brought in a host of his own men, but crucially formed a temporary entente with some of the untouchable players not so open to him.
This Chelsea close season is more along the lines of Inter's, but is designed to have the same effect as the others: a team that better fits his tactical demands, and more readily buys into his approach.
That, after all, tends to be the difference with those second seasons: the rabid intensity you associate with Mourinho's best teams. Former goalkeeper Vitor Baia describes it as a "unique drive". It was present in Porto and Inter when they won the Champions League. There were hints of it with Chelsea last season, not least in that 1-0 win over Manchester City, but the team often looked too loose.
This is where Carvalho's comment about "learning" from Mourinho is key. Over a year, he conditions the team to a certain level of conviction, with those unwilling or unable either sidelined or exiled. It creates that conspicuous common thrust.
"The mentality is important," Deco says of Porto 2003-04. "The teams are the face of the coach, the spirit of the coach. We knew what we could do."
Now, everyone has seen what Chelsea have done in the market. The defence has been solidified with Filipe Luis, the central midfield is now more complete with Cesc Fabregas's nuance alongside the more settled muscle of Nemanja Matic, while Mourinho finally has his ideal type of striker in the all-action Diego Costa.
He has put the pieces in place. All that remains is the emotional response. First may well come after second, or else the third season will bring even more pressure.
Round two at the Bridge
Jose Mourinho's second seasons at clubs have always been his most spectacular, with one exception: his first stint at Chelsea. He can now rectify that.
First season: Portuguese League, Portuguese Cup, Uefa Cup
Second season: Portuguese League, Champions League
First season: Premier League, League Cup
Second season: Premier League
First season: Italian League
Second season: ltalian League, Italian Cup, Champions League
First season: Spanish Cup
Second season: Spanish league
Those most likely to…
… do a Newcastle united 1994-95 and start with a winning streak
For all that Newcastle's 1995-96 season is remembered, it was the previous campaign that set the tone. Kevin Keegan's team won their first six Premier League games. Manchester United seem best set to replicate that. They have quickly adjusted to Louis van Gaal's style, and a forgiving first six games include three against promoted teams.
… replace Luis Suarez as the Premier League's main star
The sale of the Uruguayan to Barcelona leaves a huge hole to fill. Sergio Aguero, Eden Hazard and Mesut Özil all have the ability, but must find consistency. Aguero would seem the likeliest, given that many see him as even more talented than Suarez. Not so long ago he was being compared to fellow Argentine Leo Messi. He is a year and a half younger than Suarez… and it was exactly a year and a half ago that Suarez started to move on to another plane.
… do a Birmingham City 2010-11 and drop from mid-table to struggle
Given how dismal Alec McLeish's side were by their May 2011 relegation, it's easy to forget how durable they looked throughout 2009-10. Things may change in a similar way for one or two sides this season. Southampton must start again after their fire sale while West Ham United's problems may go deeper with speculation about Sam Allardyce's future.
… replicate Juninho 1996-97 and star in a struggling team
Enner Valencia impressed with three goals at the World Cup despite Ecuador's unlucky first-round elimination. His signing was also one of the few positives of West Ham's difficult summer. The irony if the manager does depart is that Valencia is a vintage Allardyce forward: tactically versatile and exceptionally strong with excellent heading ability. He is unlikely to be daunted by the Premier League, and could cause defenders problems. As with Middlesbrough and Juninho in 1996, West Ham have pulled off a coup in signing him. Shame he is crocked for the first few games.
… struggle to follow last season's form
Liverpool, Crystal Palace and Hull City all over-achieved last season. Yet, while Tony Pulis's Palace and Steve Bruce's Hull seem solid enough to stay in mid-table, predicting Liverpool's campaign is difficult. The question is: how much of last season was down to Brendan Rodgers's coaching, and how much to the brilliance of Suarez? Most believe Liverpool will drop because they have still to replace the central pillar that made it so strong.
Belfast Telegraph Digital