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Jose Mourinho Is Taking the Sheen Off Chelsea's Season With Cowardly Tactics

22/04/2015 17:43 BST | Updated 22/06/2015 10:59 BST

Chelsea are just eight points and three wins away from securing a first Premier League title in five years - Jose Mourinho's first since returning to the club and his third at Stamford Bridge overall.

They could travel to Anfield on Sunday 10 May as champions, receive the 'Guard of Honour' treatment and few could argue against the league leaders being the outright best this season.

Last February, Mourinho claimed that Chelsea shouldn't be compared to Manchester City and Arsenal in the context of the 2013/14 title race. His team were the little horse that needed milk and time to grow, but after a subsequent summer of important strengthening it looked like they were ready to compete.

Even before the 2014/15 campaign began, Chelsea were named favourites. They won 10 of their first 12 games without so much as batting an eyelid - only denied a 100% record by stoppage time equalisers from Manchester City and Manchester United.

Fans, experts and pundits alike have been hanging the winners' medals around the players' neck since September.

In October, they swept Arsenal aside in stunningly clinical fashion, limiting the Gunners to wayward off-target efforts and opening up a five point lead atop the Premier League - one that they have yet to relinquish.

In Eden Hazard the Blues boast the likely recipient of this season's PFA Players' Player of the Year award, the most prestigious individual prize on offer in English football. The Belgian is electric, can change a game on his own and can genuinely now be considered world class.

The rest of the team isn't bad either. Cesc Fabregas leads the Premier League in assists, Diego Costa has had his problems, but suits the Premier League perfectly and is unplayable at his bruising best. John Terry is still among the best defenders around despite his age, while Thibaut Courtois is so highly regarded that he has reduced Petr Cech to little more than a bench-warmer.

Yet despite their quality, despite the way they started the campaign, Chelsea are now almost stumbling over the line. They have started to really grind results out, playing not to lose rather than winning in style, when the run-in ought to be a victory parade - a time to show exactly why they are where they are.

Mourinho's Chelsea aren't being allowed to demonstrate that they are the best and it is taking a significant amount of the sheen off being champions.

The tight 1-0 win over a resurgent Manchester United was the game that effectively carried the team over the line - erasing any last shred of doubt that they could yet be caught. But the way Mourinho set his team up for the fixture at Stamford Bridge was almost cowardly.

With the quality players they have Chelsea had a good chance of beating United in a straight fight, but the players went out on the pitch prepped not to lose, rather than to try and win - the fact that they did get the three points was more a happy coincidence than anything else.

Even a week before the game, it was clear for all to see that centre-back Kurt Zouma would be deployed in a midfield role to nullify the effect of Marouane Fellaini. Nemanja Matic also sat very deep, while Fabregas was taken out of the direct firing line and pushed further up-field.

Mourinho makes no bones about his tactical decisions either. He was perfectly happy to admit that setting up his team with the sole intent of limiting United's output was his plan all along.

"We prepared for it to be like this. It was the game we wanted and expected," he later remarked.

"The team were fantastic. I'm the one that knows how fantastic they were because the game was exactly what we wanted. When you manage to play the game you want to play, it's fantastic. Matic worked like an animal, Zouma put Fellaini out of the game."

Chelsea have no excuse to have suddenly started playing like they have. For once there are no distractions with Champions League, Capital One Cup and FA Cup commitments all long since over.

The earliest the title could be sewn up is the 3 May, but that is assuming Chelsea win the next three games. Mourinho takes his team across London to face Arsenal this weekend and there is every chance he will use similarly negative tactics once more in a bid not to lose.

Chelsea's quality deserves more than the license they are getting from their manager at this moment in time. That shiny Premier League trophy is unfortunately all the season will be judged on, but perhaps the question instead should be 'how much better could it have been?'

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