Sunday, February 17, 2019
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What's happened to Chelsea FC?

José  Mourinho looking pensiveChelsea’s woeful start to the season demonstrates that, as far as the beautiful game is concerned, sustained success cannot be guaranteed, far less taken for granted.

 

 

After all, only a few short months ago Stamford Bridge was awash with unbridled celebration, rocking with the sort of exuberance and bombast that is delivered courtesy of the Premier League trophy. Not that the outcome was a surprise at the time, of course, given José Mourinho’s side had occupied the top spot for virtually the entire season.

 

Many commentators were then quick to install the Blues as favourites to lead the way again this season, partly down to the perceived shortcomings of the leading opponents.

 

Manchester City? Too pre-occupied with trying to make a mark in the Champions League. Manchester United? Still struggling to recover from David Moyes' ill-fated spell in charge, and Wayne Rooney’s goal scoring prowess was perhaps on the, er, wane.

 

Liverpool and Arsenal? Too inconsistent. Everton, Spurs? Forget it. But Chelsea had that winning mentality, a settled squad, and the self-styled best manager of them all.

So, what has gone so horribly wrong?

 

Following an uninspiring 1-0 loss to Arsenal in the season’s opening salvo, the Charity Shield, Chelsea were held 2-2 at home by Swansea City in a tepid opening league fixture. And frankly that set the tone for what was to come for the first two months of this season.

 

In fact, over the eight league games played thus far, Chelsea have conceded no fewer than 17 goals, a ratio of more than two per match. Last season, that ratio was a defensively eye-watering 0.8 goals per game, typifying the team’s steadfastness in keeping opponents from their goal.

 

Now, however, there is a defensive fragility at Chelsea, with soft goals being shipped at a seemingly alarming regularity. The club’s worst start to a season in 37 years can be measured in eight points in as many matches, and there’s a feeling that their fortunes are unlikely to improve any time soon.

 

Following yet another defeat last weekend – that’s four already, one more than the club sustained in the entire season last year – Mourinho insisted that his team would definitely finish in the top four this season. Although to the casual observer this was tantamount to an acknowledgement that the league title is outwith their grasp.

 

As they say, you cannot win the league in October, but you can probably lose it.

 

It’s difficult to be certain whether the very public row between Mourinho and former club doctor Eva Carneiro has had a detrimental impact on morale within the dressing room. But whatever the case regarding that particular unmitigated PR disaster for the club, there can be no doubt whatsoever that the form of certain players has dipped dramatically since last season.

 

Eden Hazard, last season’s player of the year, has yet to make any impact of note, and has at times looked disinterested. Gary Cahill has looked less than commanding without the steadying influence of John Terry beside him in central defence, and Cesc Fàbregas continues to sport the demeanour of a man whose mind was left on a beach somewhere during the summer, and needs to be told that the pre-season friendlies have been completed.

 

And, aside from a great goal against Everton (another Chelsea loss), Nemanja Matić has looked a pale shadow of his former self thus far. His confidence is unlikely to have been restored given his manager’s decision to substitute him during the second half of the Southampton loss at the weekend, having himself just been brought on as a substitute at half-time!

 

Chelsea’s poor form has been carried into the Champions League too, where an opening group victory against a very ordinary Maccabi Tel Aviv was followed by a dispiriting 2-1 defeat at the hands of Porto. Of course, failure to qualify from their group would test the patience of even the most optimistic of Chelsea fans.

 

Amid the storm, José Mourinho has cut an increasingly surly and divisive figure, and his claims of anti-Chelsea bias by match officials, once moderately entertaining, have become preposterous and frankly tedious.

 

Likewise his defence of striker Diego Costa, whose behaviour during the recent clash with Arsenal was ridiculously in excess of what should be tolerated on the field of play, was toe-curling stuff.

 

At the weekend Mourinho publicly challenged the Board to back him, inferring that to sack him would be a grave mistake. While nobody will seriously be suggesting that Mourinho’s time at the helm may be coming to a close just yet, the subsequent Board statement, while expressing its confidence in his ability to reverse the current slump, fell short of what could be termed a ringing endorsement of their manager.

 

By adding the caveat ‘he has the squad to do it’, the Board was effectively telling him that a raft of new signings would not be in the offing any time soon.

 

 

So Chelsea, and José Mourinho, face a testing few weeks ahead. One way or another, those raucous celebrations back in May must feel like a lifetime ago now.

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