Strike three and Mourinho's out
Mourinho must buck his own trend of having a torrid third season with his clubs
CHELSEA v ARSENAL
(Today, 7pm, Singtel TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
To stay at Chelsea and win the title now, Jose Mourinho must make history.
He's got to buck his own trend.
In the past, third seasons have eaten away at an impatient soul.
When Mourinho can't win, he runs.
This is only the third time in his storied career that the Chelsea manager has made it to three consecutive seasons at a club.
All three campaigns ended in anti-climax and the inevitable departure of the restless one.
Mourinho claims to be happy at Chelsea, but the feeling may not be mutual if the Blues are shot down tonight.
The Gunners are coming. This is the worst time for Mourinho to be facing his Nemesis, which means it's the best time for the rest of us. This fixture couldn't be more appetising if it was dipped in honey.
Mourinho and Arsene Wenger despise each other. Fear and loathing will accompany both men in the dugout at Stamford Bridge.
Wenger is still waiting for his first Premier League victory against Mourinho. Every winless contest after 10 attempts only adds to the apprehension.
But Mourinho's concerns are deeper, darker. Where does he go if he falls to the so-called specialist in failure? This is more than a loss of face. This is having those handsome features ripped off by the insufferable Frenchman.
A defeat sends Mourinho tumbling into an abyss of mediocrity. The January transfer window will not provide a safety net in time.
A manager with eight league titles in 12 full seasons may struggle to recover from two title-less campaigns in three seasons. If the bar seems unfairly raised, it was Mourinho who put it there.
A defeat, which would be the fourth in six Premier League fixtures, reeks of an unsolvable crisis.
And it can't be Arsenal, anyone but Arsenal, anyone but that infernal nuisance with his insufferable principles and tiresome goodness.
Mourinho genuinely resents the near-universal respect that Wenger commands despite going more than a decade without a title.
A loss against Arsenal, a flaky side Mourinho refuses to respect, will surely weaken his resolve to continue his handicapped quest.
Since pre-season, he has continuously dropped crumbs of discomfort, providing clues to his unhappiness.
Other clubs strengthened and the Blues didn't. Roman Abramovich sold Petr Cech against the manager's wishes. Mourinho failed to land John Stones and missed out on other key targets.
He made no secret of his displeasure. And when he doesn't get his own way, he walks.
When he doesn't mount a successful title charge in the third season, he walks.
Neither is happening at the moment.
Mourinho has pointed out that his third seasons at both Chelsea the first time and Real Madrid didn't end in failure. He picked up the FA Cup, the League Cup and the Spanish Super Cup.
But he's contradicting the very objection he has with Wenger. If it's not the league title, it doesn't count. Wenger has also picked up a couple of silver pots, but Mourinho still twists the knife with the "specialist in failure" tag.
What's so often overlooked in Mourinho's career is not so much his successes, but his incomparable ability to sniff out impending failures.
At Porto, Chelsea and certainly Inter Milan and Real Madrid, he scaled the peaks and slipped away, acutely aware that no one's keen on watching the descent of Superman. Mourinho is a master in making you believe that he can fly.
He's not Buzz Lightyear. He has no interest in falling with style.
And he can smell the mediocrity drifting across the Bridge. Baba Rahman and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have improved Chelsea's options against Arsenal with an injection of pace, but Mourinho didn't anticipate his stalwarts declining so quickly.
He never put a succession plan in place at his previous clubs and he certainly hasn't at Chelsea. Nor could he have anticipated the sudden uncertainty surrounding John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and, to a lesser extent, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa.
Defeat by Arsenal will only accelerate Chelsea's demise and push Mourinho towards the exit.
He'll say otherwise of course, but he just doesn't stay after a third season if a title cannot be won, or if a squad is in obvious decline.
Arsenal could help put a tick in both boxes tonight.
And Wenger, of all people, stands poised with the pen.
Third season not so special?
Porto (2002-2004): No third season. Mourinho left after winning back-to-back league titles, then the Champions League in 2004.
Chelsea (2004-2008): In his third season, he lost the league title after winning it for two terms running. But he won the FA Cup and League Cup. Left early into his fourth season.
Inter Milan (2008-2010): No third season. Left after winning back-to-back Serie A titles and the Champions League in 2010.
Real Madrid (2010-2013): Managed to capture only the Spanish Super Cup in his third season, after winning the Copa del Rey (2011) and La Liga title (2012). Returned to Chelsea after that.
- 7.45pm: Chelsea v Arsenal
- 10pm: Aston Villa v West Brom
- 10pm: Bournemouth v Sunderland
- 10pm: Newcastle v Watford
- 10pm: Stoke v Leicester
- 10pm: Swansea v Everton
- 12.30am: Man City v West Ham
- 8.30pm: Tottenham v Crystal Palace
- 11pm: Liverpool v Norwich
- 11pm: Southampton v Man United