No matter where José Mourinho goes in his career, he’ll always be defined by his time at Chelsea. Five terms, split into two non-consecutive terms, showed us what Mou was all about— the parking of buses, the media stunts, the temper tantrums, the cult of personality. If there’s a Premier League fixture that involves a sideshow which threatens to overshadow the match itself, it’s a good bet that Mourinho is a belligerent party.
Which means that Chelsea hosting Mourinho and his United squad this weekend was always going to be rife with intrigue.
Not least because Mourinho’s first league fixture at Chelsea was, in fact, at home against Manchester United. Because time is a flat circle.
This week we look back at that fixture— August 15th, 2004.
Mourinho tried to warn us all when he was first appointed. At his introductory press conference more than two months before the start of the Premier League campaign, Mourinho made it clear that Chelsea was lucky to have him. “I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I think I am a special manager because I have won the Champions League [with Porto].” A lot of people probably laughed these comments off as banter or some such. But we’ve all had more than a decade with him, and we know better now— his boasting is no mere affectation. These are, to him at least, the truest things anyone can or will ever say about him.
Not that Mourinho would think he needs help, but Fate, it seemed, was on his side. United suffered from a rash of injuries heading into the start of the season, and Sir Alex Ferguson was forced to make due without several key players. The injury crisis was so bad that captain Roy Keane was forced to play in central defense. The Red Devils, in other words, were particularly vulnerable to the previous season’s runners-up.
The game was, in many ways, Mourinho’s statement of purpose. Chelsea jumped out to a 1-0 lead early in the game when Eiður Guðjohnsen collected a diagonal cross and chipped it over Tim Howard and fending off Keane’s interference in one thundering movement. While Chelsea did have some tantalizing opportunities to increase the lead— a saved countering shot from Didier Drogba, a free kick by Frank Lampard that was ust wide of the post— for the most part the hosts were content to sit back and absorb pressure. United had one or two chances of their own, including a promising header by new signing Alan Smith, they couldn’t quite get out of second gear. Chelsea, as they would often do under Mourinho, managed to hold on to their thin lead and get the result.
The Blues would have a number of these kind of games. Chelsea won total of 12 Premier League matches that ended in a 1-0 scoreline, and a number of others where the margin was two goals or less. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was enough to secure their first top flight league title since 1955. United’s campaign was relatively disappointing; they finished that season in third, a full 18 points behind Chelsea, as well as losing the FA Cup to Arsenal on penalties and getting knocked out of the Champions League in the Round of 16. And in the game of managerial game of thrones, the outcome was clear: Mourinho the Usurper had knocked Sir Alex off his perch.
Mou returns to Stamford Bridge on Sunday wearing his new colors and, by all indications, the side plot alone will be fascinating to watch. Kickoff is at 11am EST on NBC Sports Network.