Joel Ward puts it away. Chelsea – still fighting an uphill struggle.
It’s not just a suspicion; it’s simply a fact. With 4 points out of 12 possible, Chelsea are officially in crisis, ‘enjoying’ the worst Premier League start since the year 1995. But it’s not just that: they’ve also conceded 9 goals in four Premier League games – more than they’ve ever shipped in any 4 consecutive BPL games during Mourinho’s reign. The Portuguese manager might be feinting and jabbing, but the numbers are working against him. His team has never been so easy to score against; never so capable to drop all three points in a domestic game. Never – not even two years ago, when Jose returned to Stamford Bridge to pick up all the pieces of football puzzle scattered during his absence. Never – not even in January this year, when Spurs greeted Thibaut Courtois with five goals and League One side Bradford rewarded Petr Čech with four. Right now, The Blues’ games are volatile, erratic and unbalanced – and, if you ask me, that tendency is unlikely to stop anytime soon.
How different it is from The Special One’s début season in England! Back then, he collected four straight victories with three clean sheets in the mix. His sophomore season at Stamford was even better: four wins and four clean sheets: a streak that’s been later extended to nine straight victories and 584 minutes without conceding. ‘Boring, Boring Chelsea’ the fans all around England sang, emphasizing both the team’s philosophy and their own envy of such ridiculous defensive records. To be fair: defending as tight as that was necessary. At the start of their successful journey with Roman Abramovich’s money, The Blues had notorious problems upfront. Their legend Didier Drogba was good but not beastly yet; his partner, Eiður Guðjohnsen, wasn’t of big enough caliber. Awful signings like Hernán Crespo, Andrij Shevchenko or Mateja Kežman didn’t help either. No – the essence of Blues were Čech, Carvalho, Ferreira, Makélélé and one last link that’s still kicking around today – John Terry.
— Outside90 (@Outside90) August 17, 2015
So when the same John Terry didn’t leave the dressing room to play the second half against Swansea – it was very symbolic. José subbed him off with Kurt Zouma, justifying this move by the need of pace at the back. However, it wasn’t ‘just a substitution’. For the first time ever, Mou was benching his captain; the player that disappointed him so few times in the last ten years; the player who still, in the season 2014-15, was to be one of the best Premier League centre-backs; the player who’s been so good in the past 5 years, that he’s been endlessly bugged by the media to reverse his decision and return to English national team. Terry himself, knowing the Stamford’s media regime better than anyone else, didn’t speak a word of protest about this treatment – but knowing his temper, he must’ve been furious. So I just wonder how the man feels now, when his club is repeatedly making ludicrous offers for Everton’s ‘new big thing’ – 20 years old centre-back John Stones?
However, The Captain’s Predicament is just a tip of the iceberg. For the few last years, the title of Premier League’s worst right-back used to be contested by former CFC and Liverpool lad Glen Johnson and Kyle Walker of Tottenham. This year should’ve been no different. Alas, not even the craziest football fan expected that both Glen’s and Kyle’s incompetence will be surpassed by the one of Branislav Ivanović! His stinker of a game against Swansea might’ve been an accident; but after that, the Serb has been constantly outplayed in two more games. Record-breaking Man City signing Raheem Sterling alongside with Aleksandar Kolarov swarmed around Chelsea’s left wing at Etihad, securing an easy 3-0 for the home side. Two weeks later, Mou has still failed to learn his lesson and played Ivanović against equally pacey Bakary Sako. The French-Malian midfielder took his chance and hurt CFC again – after which, The Blues’ first-choice right back absolutely needs to be benched immediately!
— The Sport Review (@TheSportReview) August 31, 2015
He’s not the only one, though. Nemanja Matić, yet another Serbian stalwart, has declined since the last campaign too. Once a master of inch-perfect tackles and forward runs with the ball, now he’s dumping big chunk of his defensive workload on Cesc Fàbregas’s arms. The Spaniard was supposed to be Chelsea’s main playmaker and assist provider – just like he was in 2014-15 league conquest. A year ago, Cesc might’ve been the most creative midfielder on the planet. He provided nine assists in first 11 games of that campaign and looked ready to break all records: including Thierry Henry’s 20-assist trail, the Frenchman registered twelve years ago. Alas, with the whole team slumping and Matić providing insufficient cover, Fàbregas became preoccupied with recovering the ball, eventually dropping further and further from the opposition’s goal and minimizing his offensive impact. He’s not playing worse than a year before, no; in fact, he’s just playing out of position.
Central-midfielder issues lead directly to more problems further forward. For instance: does the list consisting of Kyle Naughton, Bacary Sagna, Craig Dawson and Joel Ward look impressive to anyone? No? And those are exactly the four players Eden Hazard faced over the course of last four weeks. Naughton lost only one out of 5 duels with the Belgian. Sagna and Ward? Not a single one. Out of these four lads, only Dawson failed to keep his man tame, as he lost 3 duels and eventually allowed Hazard to get his first assist of the season. But that is certainly not enough from a player who, in Don José’s words, was supposed to be ‘on the same level as Ronaldo and Messi’. Ronaldo? Messi? At the moment, Eden has to do a lot of work to get on the same level as David Silva (1 goal and 4 assist) or André Ayew (3 goals and 1 assist). At the current rate, 14-15 landmark of 14 goals and 10 assists does not seem achievable – even if Chelsea starts to finally get their penalty claims approved.
0 goals and 1 assist in 4 matches. Is Hazard losing his magical touch?
To be fair to Mourinho – he actually identified the problem with his attacking midfielders and addressed it recently. Hijacking Pedro’s deal with Manchester United was a brilliant move for a team that badly needed one more, high-standard attacking midfielder. What’s even better, Pedro brings versatility to the table, allowing Mou more options without expanding team’s roster too much (which Portuguese manager seems to hate, as he’s very consistent at playing the same starting 11). In his début, La Masia’s graduate needed only 20 minutes to score a goal and ten more to get an assist. What’s more important, unlike one-dimensional, dribble-oriented Hazard, Pedro has proven himself as a well-rounded veteran, excelling both at creating chances from fast breaks (Diego Costa’s goal) and old-fashioned crossing into the box (Falcao’s header against Palace). To be entirely honest: it’s his form and his form only that prevented a total disaster. Oh, what United are missing…
Pedro’s arrival combined with Oscar’s injury have forced Willian to relocate in to the middle of the pitch. Now, Willian has always been a curious player to rate: hard-working and reliable but rarely efficient in terms of offensive output. Perhaps it’s the middle of the park that’s been his destination for many years until now, but one also cannot shake off the impression that a club like Chelsea should have much more creative player as their main CAM. And they’ve had one once: his name was Kevin De Bruyne. For Mourinho, the story of this Belgian was probably the biggest man-management error of his career so far. Brought to Stamford Bridge for just £7 million from Genk, KdB was loaned here and there until VfL Wolfsburg bought him for £18 million. Fast-forward a year, Kevin is a Bundesliga record-holder with 20 assists in a single season. And – critically – he’s also Manchester City’s new signing. An outrageuos, £55 million signing, to be specific. Oops.
De Bruyne isn’t the only failed transfer venture Chelsea should look back at with regret. One year ago, Juan Cuadrado was a star player for very strong Colombian national team in the World Cup. Capable of playing as a wing-back or right winger, he’s been Fiorentina’s assist king and a potential Barcelona’s replacement to Dani Alves. Instead of that, he chose Chelsea – and disappeared. Now, he’ll try to regain some reputation by joining Juventus. The cost? £23.3 million. Fairly same goes for Atletico Madrid’s Filipe Luís. Brilliant in the first half of 2014, victorious against Chelsea in Champions League, he was brought to Stamford Bridge for £15.8 million – only to watch César Azpilicueta from the stands. This summer, he went back to Los Colchoneros, costing The Blues £4.7 million in transfer fees alone – not to mention the wages. And what about £10.5 million Loïc Rémy? Whenever he gets a chance, he’s a danger. However, Mourinho still rates Radamel Falcao above him.
So far, The Special One has been awkwardly deflecting the blame. The whole ‘Eva Carneiro Affair’ was absurd, sexist, but most importantly – not relevant to the outcome of Swansea game, proving that Mourinho, maybe for the first time in his managerial career, has lost an objective outlook on things. Still, the deflections just kept coming. Calling 0-3 defeat in Manchester ‘a fake result’ was an another sign of a delusional judgement. Yes, City could’ve won that game 1-0 or 2-0; but judging from the course of action, they were always winning anyway. A messy, questionable victory at Hawthorns allowed José to avoid any further difficult questions for a while, but the truth is: his team only won because James Morrison utterly and absolutely failed at taking his penalty kick. It still wasn’t a good game by CFC – and it was far, far from a game in which Chelsea would dominate from start to the end like they used to dominate last season.
Mourinho: ‘They were the best team in the first half. In the second half everything changed and we were the best team.’ #CFC
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) August 16, 2015
The home loss to Crystal Palace was something different. It was, quite clearly, a new low of Chelsea’s bad streak; a culmination of crisis (for now?). Unlike Sunderland last year, Crystal Palace didn’t get any little help from their friends. The refereeing was completely fair, there were no random injuries to hamper Blues’ game nor any lucky blooters that saw goalkeepers beaten against all odds. Forced to play without John Terry again, Mourinho’s lads were simply unable to deal with two crosses from the left-hand side. A failure to intercept them, combined with a failure to track back players at the far post resulted with a disaster. Just like against Swansea, scoring a goal didn’t boost team’s confidence – it actually destroyed players’ focus. Again: so drastically different from the old days, when a 1-0 lead or a 1-1 equalizer would’ve always turned the game into a cruise control for Don José’s side. The way it is today… well, we might never see that ancient Blue team again.
Where’s the relief now? Premier League is going on an international break for almost two weeks. After that, Mourinho shall meet another from the long line of his former protégées he might be happy to have in Chelsea today. His name is Romelu Lukaku – and he will be looking to exploit all the weaknesses CFC has shown so far. But that’s in two weeks; before that, the transfer summer must conclude. Having spent over £76 million so far, Roman Abramovich could be reluctant to make another big deal. However, the team clearly needs one more defender to provide some depth at the back. John Stones’ saga is unlikely to end until the very last moment and most recent rumours claim that Mourinho is also eying FC Nantes’ towering centre-back Papy Djilobodji. Who, you might ask? Good question – I have no idea. On the other hand: someone is needed. Something is needed. Otherwise, not only title chances, but also Champions League promotion are going to be in danger.