While some of his rivals were spending millions on marquee defenders last summer Jose Mourinho was happy to sell David Luiz secure in the knowledge that he had a back-four that would be the bedrock of Chelsea’s title push. With the Premier League trophy now back at Stamford Bridge, Mourinho’s judgement has again proved spot on as John Terry, Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta have been the most reliable defensive unit in the country.
The first three were selected by their fellow professionals in their “team of the season” along with peerless midfield defensive shield Nemanja Matic.
Luiz, at 50 million pounds ($77.25 million) the most expensive defender in the history of the game, has become something of a liability at Paris St Germain, committing the sort of howlers that should have earned him a lifetime ban from the center-back union.
Marcos Rojo, outstanding in the 2014 World Cup, and Luke Shaw, one of the brightest prospects in England, have struggled to make the Manchester United team while Manchester City fans are wondering who thought Eliaquim Mangala was worth 32 million pounds.
Chelsea boss Mourinho knows a long, hard campaign must be built on a reliable rearguard and, with only 27 goals conceded in 35 games, his unit is the most miserly in the Premier League.
Terry and Cahill have had their wobbles in recent seasons and the latter looked horribly exposed for England at the World Cup.
But, side by side in the league, they have been superb.
Terry, who seems physically and mentally revitalized under Mourinho, has played every league match this season, a remarkable modern-day achievement.
In Mourinho’s first spell in charge at the Bridge from 2004-07 Terry was one of his “untouchables” and that was again the case this season.
The former England captain was at the peak of his powers last week in the goalless draw at Arsenal that just about secured the title, his organization, anticipation and overall mastery of the art of defending leaving his manager purring.
“I told John, in the six years with me, that is the best I have seen from him. He was absolutely amazing,” Mourinho said of the 34-year-old who two seasons ago was written off by then-manager Rafa Benitez as being unable to manage two games a week.
“Everything was clean: giving cover, the defensive line, interceptions, reading the game so well, interceptions. The team were phenomenal but John was one step ahead of every other player.”
Cahill is in a similar mold and is learning at the feet of a man former Liverpool and England defender Jamie Carragher describes as the best defender ever in the Premier League.
Ivanovic has been doing his thing for years. Unflappable, relentlessly efficient and determined and chipping in with key goals, he is the sort of full-back every manager prays for and, like Terry, has not missed a league game all season.
Azpilicueta is similarly valuable, winning over Chelsea fans after usurping Ashley Cole at left-back last season and bedding down seamlessly since.
The back-four have been aided of course by a strong goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, and a brilliant shield in front.
Just as Claude Makelele was the relentless screen during Mourinho’s first spell at the Bridge, the long-striding Matic has been of huge importance in his second.
The Serb has fully vindicated the manager’s decision to spend 21 million pounds to bring him back after the club let him go to Benfica three years earlier and Mourinho has shown yet again that when it comes to building title-winning teams, you make sure your foundations are rock solid.