EPL: Reds must learn from Blues

EPL: Reds must learn from Blues

Heaven knows Jose Mourinho polarises opinion. The Chelsea manager pushes more buttons than a petulant child.

But his eye for a replacement remains uncanny. His ability to improve on inferior resources is remarkable.

Brendan Rodgers' old master still has the Midas touch in the transfer market and there are lessons for the Liverpool coach to learn.

When it comes to bolstering the ranks quickly and decisively, the Blues lead the way. The Reds are playing catch-up.

Chelsea's convincing comeback against Burnley yesterday morning (Singapore time) offered the Anfield faithful an unwanted reminder of the gap that still exists between former teacher and pupil.

Rodgers remains prone to scattergun spending sprees, like a cashed-up kid with an itchy trigger finger.

Mourinho is a stone-cold assassin with a chequebook. He doesn't play Russian roulette with his boss' roubles.

He's Tom Cruise in Collateral, working his way through a pre-planned list of targets, neither swayed by distractions nor influenced by external forces.

With the exception of Dejan Lovren, none of Liverpool's flurry of pre-season signings tick the boxes with the same ruthless reliability as the three new faces in Chelsea jerseys yesterday.

Despite spending more than £100 million ($208m), Anfield's latest additions do not rival Cesc Fabregas and Thibaut Courtois' proven pedigree or Diego Costa's Premier League potential.

Courtois' inclusion is a homecoming of sorts, after spending three seasons on loan at Atletico Madrid, but Mourinho's instinctive knack of fielding new or returning players at the right time must be the envy of dugout rivals.

Indeed, if Mourinho's transactions are traced back to the start of the calendar year, then he's less the Little Horse of Stamford Bridge and more the Wolf of Wall Street.

In Nemanja Matic, he snared the signing of the January window. Both muscular and magisterial, the Serbian midfielder is blessed with a brutish physique and the light-footed finesse of a ballerina.

To then slip Fabregas alongside him seems almost unfair. Mourinho has mischievously put together the silkiest, steeliest central midfield partnership in the Premier League.

Fabregas was indeed silky against Burnley, but it was the extraordinary combination of his enterprise and Matic's endeavour that will concern title rivals.

Chelsea's central midfield is the work of an alchemist.

In contrast, the dressing-room turnstile at Anfield has been in full rotation for weeks, balancing the books but not necessarily the starting line-up.

Against Southampton, Steven Gerrard, Lucas Leiva and Jordan Henderson all laboured to contain the Saints. Emre Can may replace Lucas, but the Liverpool midfield looks to be a little lost in transition.

Goals should not be a problem for the Reds, but then they are no longer an issue for the Blues either. Costa found the net on his Premier League debut, maintaining the league form that earned 27 goals in Atletico's La Liga-winning campaign.

Luis Suarez was probably irreplaceable, but Rodgers hasn't really tried, opting instead to throw money around in the general direction of Adam Lallana, Lazar Markovic and Rickie Lambert in the hope that some of it sticks on a reliable, creative goal-scoring source.

Mourinho doesn't advocate a hit-and-hope philosophy in the transfer market. He rejects quaint notions of The Beatles being required to replace Elvis (Liverpool's spending activity hasn't been as random as Tottenham's trolley dash after Gareth Bale's departure, but it hasn't been entirely focused either).

Mourinho prefers like-for-like replacements where possible; Fabregas for Frank Lampard, Matic for Ramires, Felipe Luis for Ashley Cole, Diego Costa for Fernando Torres and, of course, Courtois for Petr Cech.

From Porto and Inter Milan to the Blues and back again, the Portuguese has usually progressed with specific types of players, swopping one for the other: a Volvo for a Volvo, rather than a Volvo for a Ferrari (he doesn't always trust unpredictable speedsters).

Chelsea's startling line-up against Burnley was a testament to Mourinho's haste in completing squad makeovers.

Last December, the Blues were coming down quicker than the Christmas decorations: their title dreams dissolving in the festive sleet.

Nine months later, Chelsea are a side lacking in obvious weaknesses. When Felipe Luis slots in at left back and Cesar Azpilicueta shifts to his favoured right side, the Blues become the Premier League's only real resistance to an Etihad empire.

Mourinho measures a team's transition in months, not years, anticipating clear progress from one transfer window to the next. He troubleshoots early so new signings settle quickly.

As a result, Chelsea are already flying, but Liverpool's newcomers need time to find their feet.

When it comes to quick fixes, Rodgers still trails his old mentor.

npsports@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on August 20, 2014.
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