LONDON: Five days after smothering Atletico Madrid with a defensive blanket in the Champions League, Chelsea parked “two buses” in front of their goal to win at Anfield, according to Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers on Sunday.
Manager Jose Mourinho (pictured) may not be providing the kind of swashbuckling football armchair fans salivate over but it is mighty effective and further evidence that when it comes to pouring water all over the barbecue, he is still the master.
The Portuguese, whose Inter Milan side beat Barcelona and Bayern Munich on the way to winning the 2010 Champions League by putting up the barricades and conceding possession, proved again that he is the ultimate pragmatist.
Liverpool have torn teams to shreds at Anfield this season and had won 11 games in a row to stand on the verge of a first title for 24 years - yet their fans would have been fearful of the visit of Chelsea who have so often been their nemesis.
So it proved as Liverpool failed to flow, got bogged down in midfield and spent the afternoon running repeatedly into a wall of blue before succumbing to a couple of sucker punches.
A deflated Rodgers could hardly contain his contempt for Chelsea’s tactics, suggesting that any team could be set up to spoil and it was much more worthy trying to entertain.
But he is far from the first manager to find himself out-witted by the Portuguese who gleefully ran down the touchline when Willian tapped in his side’s second goal in stoppage time.
When Mourinho arrived at Chelsea in 2004 he called himself the Special One and launched the club down a path that led to two Premier League titles with football that was not always pretty but was devastatingly effective.
When he returned before the start of this season he said he was the “Happy One”. At times he has looked like the “Miserable One” but he really does not care what people think, other than his adoring fans at Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho has been a spiky presence in the dugout and in his post-match press conferences lately - sarcastically congratulating the referee for his perceived errors in Chelsea’s home defeat by Sunderland last week which may well end up costing them the title.
His outburst attracted widespread scorn but cleverly deflected attention away from his players’ poor show.
A few days later in Madrid they responded to the siege mentality that Mourinho loves to instil with a superb rearguard action against Atletico, eking out a 0-0 draw that makes them favourites to progress to the Champions League final.
His mind already scheming the next move, Mourinho then rubbished Chelsea’s part in the English title race, saying Europe was their priority and that he would field the reserves at Liverpool.
Whether Rodgers would care to admit it, Mourinho’s apparent indifference to Sunday’s Anfield encounter was a subtle piece of de-stabilisation that worked a treat.
Rodgers described Chelsea as having a “six-man” defence and parking two buses in front of their goal. Mourinho, predictably, saw things differently.
“The best team won,” Mourinho said. “The team that deserved to win more won, simple. That’s my opinion.
“The team played brilliantly. Every player was magnificent. There were no mistakes with zonal play, which is more difficult than targeting a man. We covered space and men. I think it was a fantastic performance by my players.”
He then took a swipe at both Liverpool and Manchester City, who are still likely to finish above Chelsea - already sowing seeds of doubt for the battles ahead next season.
“The champion is only one team so we don’t want a trophy for finishing third, but we can say we won both matches against the champions,” he said.
“We won both matches against Liverpool and both matches against Man City so it doesn’t matter which one is the champion, we won both matches against them.”
Chelsea may well end up missing out on the title but in one-on-one tactical combat Mourinho has, in footballl speak, played a blinder in the last two games against in vogue rivals Diego Simeone and Rodgers.