There has been much furore about the defensive tactics that Chelsea employed to defeat Liverpool 2-0 at the weekend and blow the title race back open.
Many were quick to criticise Jose Mourinho’s style of play – saying that the 4-5-1 formation adopted by the Stamford Bridge based outfit was ‘anti-football’ and aesthetically unpleasing for the neutral.
And yet, what else were they expecting?
Mourinho is the most tactically astute manager in the Premier League and at Anfield it showed.
Whereas every other side in the top four has gone to the Reds’ backyard and adopted a style of football that played directly into their hands, Mourinho employed a tactic to stifle their play. He employed a tactic to frustrate their fans and their players. And, ultimately, he employed a tactic to win the game and give his side a chance of reclaim the Premier League.
For this, he deserves credit not to be vilified. He could have gone to Anfield, played an open and expressive game – as Manchester City and Arsenal did – and seen his side beaten, but why would he?
If his side had lost that game, they would have been out of the Premier League title race. They needed to win the game and he chose to play the most effective tactics possible to get a result. Mourinho may have told everybody that would listen during the week building up to the fixture that he was going to play a reserve side and that the title race was over, but his celebration shows that all the talk was simply mind-games. He wanted to win that match desperately.
Indeed, for all the good that Brendan Rodgers has done for Liverpool this season, and there is no doubting he has done a phenomenal job, this game highlighted his naivety in these types of situations. If he had gone into the game and played for a draw, showing a willingness to change his principles, he would likely have got a point from the game and left Liverpool in pole position to claim their first Premier League crown.
As it was, he stuck rigidly to the same tactics that have got Liverpool into this position and it cost him.
Directly opposing what the old cliché might say, sometimes defence is the best form of attack and nobody knows this better than Mourinho.