José Mourinho returns to the Premier League this weekend convinced Chelsea can regain the championship and stamp authority on a title race that, in his opinion, has lacked an outstanding team over the last few seasons.
The Portuguese welcomes newly promoted Hull City to Stamford Bridge on Sunday as he oversees his first home league game in charge of the Londoners since the goalless draw with Blackburn in September 2007, a result followed four days later by his dismissal. While Chelsea had broken the duopoly enjoyed by Manchester United and Arsenal under his stewardship first time round, Mourinho can see up to six clubs challenging for the title this season with the elite apparently devoid of a team who "can destroy the competition".
Indeed, the returning manager admitted he had been unimpressed over the last few years by the quality of the sides to have claimed the title he twice hoisted with Chelsea in that first period at the club. "The league is probably stronger because more teams can fight for the trophy, but a few years ago the better teams were better," he said.
"You think Manchester United won the Premier League last year because they were an unbelievable team? I don't think so. The other contenders didn't have a very good season. It was the same the year before when City won the title. Were they an extraordinary team? I don't think so. Others made so many mistakes that City eventually won the competition.
"In previous years you've had a fantastic Arsenal who were champions without a single defeat [in 2004]. You had a Chelsea with a points record in the Premier League [of 95 in 2005]. You had a United side who won the title after our two wins and had an unbelievable season [in 2007]. I think the champions, in other seasons, were magnificent. And especially in the last two seasons, I've felt they weren't.
"The champions were champions as a consequence of many things, not because they were phenomenal. For example, last year in the first period of the competition, United won matches and the other teams were losing incredible points. Sometimes you win because you are tremendous. Other times you win because you are the best. But you can be the best without being tremendous."
Chelsea have struggled to maintain their own challenge in the last two years, finishing nine, 25 and 14 points respectively from the top since Carlo Ancelotti's side last claimed the trophy in 2010. Their side still bears the appearance of one in transition, with younger players being integrated into the set-up and the pursuit of an elite forward – acceptance is sinking in that he may not now be Wayne Rooney – on-going before the closure of the transfer window next month. Mourinho will take his squad to Stamford Bridge to train on Saturday to grant his new players, among them Andre Schürrle and Marco van Ginkel but also the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, an opportunity to adjust to new surroundings, with the manager confident his team can claim the title.
"When I hear Arsène Wenger, who has been here for more years than me, speak of six candidates to win it, I agree with him," said Mourinho. "We don't see somebody who can destroy the competition with 95 or 100 points and win the title. That's good for the competition. But yes, we can win it. We start with zero points, we go match by match, we have a good squad: some with talent who aren't end products; some kids who haven't played a Premier League match yet. But I want to think 'yes', that this team step by step will be better, make fewer mistakes, will be more solid. This competition lasts 10 months, 38 matches. So let's go step by step."
That contrasts sharply with his bold pledge, upon arriving in England back in 2004, that his first Chelsea team would win a first title in half a century that season, a prophecy that duly came to pass.
"But my squad were end products at that time," he said. "We had Petr Cech arriving but we knew already he was what he is. We had Arjen Robben, a young boy from Holland who already had a European Championships in his legs. After that, end products: the kind of player we were buying, people like Ricardo Carvalho and Didier Drogba; players like Frank Lampard, Claude Makelele...
"We were the kind of team that, with tactical work, some group work and especially [developing a] mentality because they didn't have a winning culture, the side was in condition to win it immediately. We can this season. Of course we can. And we want to think we can. But it's a different process. I want to give the players the stability and they don't need the added pressure. I put pressure on them every day to work hard, and they don't need outside pressure that they must do it."
Mourinho will be without the injured David Luiz, who he reiterated will remain at the club despite interest from Barcelona, will check on Juan Mata's fitness ahead of Hull and admitted Victor Moses would not be involved following his late return from Nigeria's friendly victory over South Africa in Durban on Wednesday. "I saw him in the airport when we arrived back from the United States (last Monday), but I don't know where he is now," he said, yet this squad boasts other flair players who can step in. Indeed, the Portuguese rather bristled when asked whether his new-look team would offer panache as well solidity in the campaign ahead.
"That question comes often, but the story is always the same," he added. "Record number of points in the Premier League? Chelsea. Record points in La Liga? My Real Madrid. Record of goals? My Real Madrid. Record of consecutive victories in the Premier League: I don't know, but maybe it's our record still. We don't win by winning 1-0, by defending and not attacking. My teams are offensive teams. Look at the profile of player we have: Oscar, Hazard, Mata, De Bruyne, Schurrle... we can't play physical football with these people. My players are technical players, they want the ball, need the ball, and I want to attack and try and be dominant."