Were Chelsea truly "Little Horses” as Jose Mourinho claimed in 2013-14?

MYTHBUSTER Were Chelsea truly "Little Horses” as Jose Mourinho claimed in 2013-14?

Seye Omidiora 21:12 - 23.06.2023

The Portuguese boss downplayed the Blues’ prospects in the Premier League against Manchester City and Liverpool when the reality showed that the West London club missed an opportunity to claim that season’s title.

The 2013-14 Premier League season is remembered for Steven Gerrard’s infamous slip in the run-in and Luis Suarez tearing up at Selhurst Park after Liverpool’s 3-3 draw, having led 3-0.

Manchester City were crowned champions after what was considered a two-horse race between the blue half of Manchester and the red side of Merseyside.

There was another team in the race: Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, even if the Portuguese manager got observers believing his West London side stood no chance in what became a three-horse race — a two-team tussle according to Mourinho.

In a year that the English punditocracy seemed to be backing Brendan Rodgers’s side for the league title — which would have ended the Reds’ 24-year wait for a title at the time — the two-time Champions League winner was the campaign’s party pooper at Anfield, with the London outfit stunning the expectant home support 2-0.

Jose Mourinho Chelsea
Jose Mourinho effectively rained on Liverpool's parade in the 2013-14 season

Chelsea refused to be “clowns in the circus”, but how did Mourinho convince almost everyone that his side stood no chance against City and Liverpool?

“Two horses and a little horse,” the Blues boss stated after his team defeated the eventual champions 1-0 at the Etihad Stadium in February 2014.

“A little horse that still needs milk and needs to learn how to jump. Two big horses and a nice horse. A horse that next season, we can race.”

Jose Mourinho Chelsea
Mourinho claimed his side could not compete with Manchester City and Liverpool in 2013-14

The case for Mourinho

In a sense, the Chelsea boss had a point. The Stamford Bridge club’s last Premier League title had come in 2010 when Carlo Ancelotti’s team pipped Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United to the crown on the campaign’s final day.

Preceding that 2009-10 triumph was the Portuguese manager’s second Premier League win in 2005-06, and they went three campaigns without that honour until Ancelotti’s entertainers prevented the Red Devils from reigning supreme for the fourth year running.

During that four-year wait, Chelsea never finished more than seven points back of the Red Devils, demonstrating their consistency despite not dethroning Ferguson’s men.

Chelsea were always in touching distance with Manchester United despite not winning the league for three years

However, Ancelotti’s men ended the 2010-11 season nine points off the top spot. The following season brought about the club’s Holy Grail, but that Champions League triumph only papered over the cracks as they ended 25 points back of Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City.

They also won the FA Cup in Roberto Di Matteo’s interim spell after the Italian replaced a green Andre Villas-Boas.

Assisted by Rafael Benitez’s expertise in 2012-13, an improved Chelsea closed the gap on the campaign’s eventual champions to 14 points. They won that year’s Europa League title.

Rafael Benitez effectively saved Chelsea's 2012-13 season and won in Europe

Mourinho’s intermittently reminded anyone who cared to listen upon his return that the club had become a cup team that lacked title-winning consistency.

The 2010 Champions League winner kept reiterating that his first campaign back at the Bridge was one of evolution, with the side devoid of a reliable number nine as none of Fernando Torres, Demba Ba and 32-year-old Samuel Eto’o providing a steady source of goals.

While Mourinho promised second-season maturation, the 13-14 campaign was there for the taking.

A little horse that still needs milk and needs to learn how to jump. Two big horses and a nice horse.

The case against Mourinho

Chelsea’s impressive 1-0 win over the Manchester outfit put them level with Manuel Pellegrini while table-topping Arsenal were two points ahead. Arsene Wenger’s men ultimately ended seven points behind the Cityzens.

Interestingly, Liverpool — the side that eventually ran Pellegrini’s men close — were seven points off the North London side after gameweek 24.

The Premier League table after Chelsea defeated Manchester City in February 2014 (Transfermarkt)

However, the remainder of Chelsea’s Premier League campaign was strange. Of the Blues’ 14 final opponents, Mourinho’s men faced more sides in the division’s bottom half — West Bromwich Albion, Fulham, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Swansea City, Sunderland, Norwich City and Cardiff City.

Strikingly, Chelsea failed to win five of those eight fixtures, with defeats at Villa, Palace and especially Sunderland — ending Mourinho’s 78-game unbeaten Premier League run at Stamford Bridge — severely denting their aspirations.

Hitherto defeating City at the Etihad, a goalless encounter in a London derby with West Ham United drew the ire of Mourinho, who accused the Hammers of playing “football from the 19th century”.

Chelsea West Ham 2014
Mourinho criticised West Ham's approach at Stamford Bridge in January 2014 (BBC Sport)

Undisputedly, those dropped points against supposedly lesser opposition marred an unexpected title challenge, even if the counter-argument that teams in the lower half of the table battling for their lives are desperate to survive, ergo bringing about encounters with dogged opponents.

Mourinho would point to perceived misgivings against Villa away and Sunderland at home, but the truth is Chelsea missed an opportunity to claim that year’s title due to their inability to make the most of their superior technical ability and individual quality.

Selling Juan Mata in January meant the club lost much-needed creativity for tight games against sides playing negatively, a deal sanctioned by Mourinho after the Spaniard grew frustrated by his marginalised status.

Jose Mourinho Juan Mata Chelsea
Juan Mata became a bit-part player after Mourinho's Chelsea return

While the arrivals of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa in the summer of 2014 meant the Portuguese boss delivered the club’s fourth Premier League crown, the previous year demonstrated the team’s inability to take advantage of that year’s favourable opportunity.

Liverpool had finished 2011-12 in eighth place on 52 points (37 adrift of City) and seventh on 61 points in 2012-13 (28 behind United), immediately refuting Mourinho tagging Rodgers’s team a “big horse”.

Mourinho’s Chelsea may have refused to be the “clowns at the circus” at Anfield in April 2014, but they did not need Fabregas and Costa to win the league.

They could have done it the year before. They were no little horses.