You don’t have to beat the best to be the best. That seemed to be Jose Mourinho’s philosophy for Sunday’s game against Manchester City, anyway.
In the last campaign, the Chelsea manager orchestrated victories home and away against Manuel Pellegrini’s side. It was a Mourinho masterclass.
The Blues’ record against the top six teams was outstanding, taking 23 points from a possible 30.
But it was their record against the lesser teams that really hurt them, with the lack of a prolific striker costing them the Premier League trophy.
But in Diego Costa, he has found that striker.
Costa’s seven goals in four games put Chelsea top of the Premier League with breathing space, just four matches into the new campaign.
So when the two title favourites squared up on Sunday, Mourinho knew the onus was on City.
As expected, he set out a team designed to defend, but with enough counter-attacking qualities to steal the points if the opportunity presented itself.
While being extremely careless in possession, Mourinho’s side did as they were told.
The defence remained compact, with Nemanja Matic acting as the filler for any gaps that opened up to a City attack.
And in the 71st minute, Mourinho’s plan was executed in a delightful counter-attacking move.
As Chelsea broke at pace, Andre Schurrle intelligently made his way to the back post to connect with a perfectly-placed Eden Hazard cross. 1-0.
But the German’s involvement as a substitute represented Mourinho’s perspective on the game.
The Chelsea manager knew the focus was on not losing the game rather than winning it, and for that reason the disciplined Willian had started ahead of the 23-year-old German to ensure that.
This reasoning became apparent when Schurrle’s failure to track James Milner led to Frank Lampard equalising against his former club.
The result was satisfactory for City with Lampard’s goal preventing the champions falling eight points behind Mourinho’s side.
But for Chelsea, even at this early stage, the possibility that a goal from a Stamford Bridge legend could cost them the league to is truly inconceivable.
Picture courtesy of In Mou We Trust, with thanks