The sole low-key aspect of Friday night’s UEFA Super Cup was the pre-kick-off handshake between managerial rivals, Pep and the newly self-dubbed ‘Happy One’.
Albeit, never has such a limp squid of a mutual fingerwrap been so highly charged. Three hours later there was only room for one gargantuan bruised ego in the making of Bayern Munich’s victoire, as Romelu Lukaku gave it less puff and more fluff with one cringey last kick in Prague.
Bayern Munich and all who sail in her will have woke up yesterday morning able to testify to what the feeling is like to lay planet football ghosts to rest. The memory of the 2012 Champion’s League final defeat by Chelsea in their own backyard was buried at Wembley in May.
As the teams left the tunnel to a fanfare welcome Czech style, German golden boy, Philipp Lahm, caressed the Champion’s League trophy in his hands as Frank Lampard lumped the Europa League Cup onto the pitch like a cumbersome dead weight.
The moment was symbolic of where the land currently lies in terms of success. The fact that by the turn of midnight the record read that Bayern had got one over on Chelsea – on penalties no less – could quantify as Bavarian retribution should someone think to put it in a reference book.
By Saturday evening, Bayern manager Guardiola would have moved on, already scoping out his plans to near emulate the club’s achievements of last season. On the other hand, there’s no measure of how deep this one would have cut for Jose Mourinho.
For one, journalists won’t be for washing down the sink quite yet this, nor his existing poor record against Guardiola from their La Liga days. The English media aka ‘the haters’ – in the Happy One’s eyes – are sure to keep that one on the backburner of Mourinho’s ever perceived chinks and flaws.
In his post-match interview, Mourinho was all too keen to answer whatever opening question was put to him with: “The best team lost.” Had he been asked off the bat why Juan Mata wasn’t featured in the squad, or why John Terry didn’t take the fifth penalty, the reply would’ve be surely, or should that be surly, the same.
Such are the perpetual fine margins, Mourinho’s week and self dubbed specialness – starting with Chelsea’s trip to Old Trafford last Monday – could have landed on a whole new set of bouncy springs.
Had Javi Martinez not equalised for Bayern Munich in the dying seconds of extra-time with a ten man Chelsea 2-1 up and a hand on the Super Cup; or indeed had the Man United clash came a few more weeks into the season with Chelsea fielding a fitter, more settled side, the headlines would’ve been oh so different.
Mourinho’s squad, as is, has all the makings of a very successful side. Oscar and Eden Hazard would make any Premier League Select XI, The duo are a nice little reminder that the Premier League still attracts the cream of young South American and European talent.
Mourinho might yet get the best out of Fernando Torres, and with new signing Samuel Eto’o soon to be biting at his shoogly peg, El Nino can ill afford another poor scoring season. With the fortitude of Terry and Lampard reminding existing players, newbies and potential January window signings of what it is to wear the blue lion upon their chests, the core spirit of the team remains, much as it did the day Mourinho stepped away in 2007.
The acquisition of versatile wide man, Andre Schurrle from Bayer Leverusen, just might be the missing link to last season’s team criticised for having all the talent going, but none of the width to prove a Plan B was accessible.
The way in which Gary Cahill and David Luiz squeezed Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller on Friday night for a large part of the game suggests Mourinho’s muscular defensive template is back, and no messing.
Chelsea conceded 39 goals last season; the same tally they managed in two whole seasons under the Mourinho’s first stint. Despite Friday’s defeat, the back four as a whole were organised and resolute, with Luiz showing all the signs that his, at times, wayward concentration can and will be left in the dressing room.
Recent seasons have seen Chelsea unravel during the winter months, never able to pick up consistency going into the final third to challenge the top two spots. The gods have been kind to them in this term’s fixtures as results in December against Stoke, Sunderland and Crystal Palace may find them in a strong position come the new year.
Qualification out of their Champion’s League group stage certainly looks do-able as they’ve avoided the biggest names, though still face tricky visits to the homes of opponents Shalke, FC Basel and Steaua Bucharest.
Throughout the rough and tumble of the next few months, Mourinho no doubt will keep his special beady eye on goings-on with Pep in his red Bavaria; as Jose knows more than football’s most how irony, re-visits to and re-meets of old foes happen on more occasions than can be made sense of.
In which case, none of us should be surprised if the duo who dominated the La Liga narrative for two compelling years should have their new club names popped out of a couple of UEFA balls – incidentally harder to get into than a Kinder Egg in Fort Knox – come near the business end of this season’s Champion’s League.
All hypothetical of course, but by then Mourinho’s Chelsea will be fitter, stronger and wiser than Friday night’s showing, where they came close enough. Let’s hope Michel Platini has a hypothetical direct line to the gods, all in the name of non-hypothetical entertainment.