Mourinho’s Toughest Test

mou

via umaxit.com

As Graziano Pellé struck for Southampton in the 72nd minute to put the Saints ahead 3-1 at Stamford Bridge the Sky Sports commentator remarked, “This is turning from a blip into a full blown crisis for Chelsea.”

Southampton would win the match by that scoreline and keep Chelsea in 16th place in the table ahead of only West Brom, Aston Villa, Sunderland, and Newcastle.

The reigning Premier League champions have begun this season with only eight points from their first eight league matches, sitting 10 points behind league leaders Manchester City.  Even worse they have won only half their league games and only six of 12 in all competitions to begin the year.

After the match, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho was asked by Sky Sports what he thought of his team’s performance in the loss.  He went on a seven minute rant that first started blaming the referees for his team’s troubles in this particular match and then spoke of the squad’s terrible start to the season.

“If the club wants to sack me, they have to sack me because I’m not running away from my responsibility, my team, my conviction,” Mourinho said. “If the club sacks me, they sack the best manager they ever had, and secondly the message is again the message of bad results the manager is guilty.”

Mourinho is a master at interviews and manipulating the media to deflect criticism from his team, but this was something new.  He appeared somber yet cocky and sneered at the camera.  After being asked a simple question he launched into a seven minute diatribe and said the “S” word, sack.

Who thought Chelsea would be here just five months removed from winning the 2014-15 Premier League title?  Just two months ago Mourinho was given a new four-year deal. After a history of leaving clubs after three seasons, this seemed to perhaps cement Mourinho as Chelsea’s long-time manager.  Maybe he could finally be what Sir Alex Ferguson was to Manchester United or Arsene Wenger is to Arsenal.

One man knew better though, The Guardian’s Barry Glendenning.

Last season Chelsea clinched the title with three matches remaining and finished eight points above Manchester City.  They began the year looking like a complete squad capable of playing team defense and also scoring goals with the potent combination of midfielder Cesc Fábregas supplying striker Diego Costa.

However, Fábregas — to no surprise of Arsenal or Barcelona fans — trailed off after the December holiday period and the Chelsea attack suffered as a result.  By the end of the season they had secured the title based on their healthy lead established earlier in the season while they were setting the pace.

While Chelsea claimed the title they did so by playing 11 first team players over 2,000 minutes total.  (In comparison the only team with more that I looked at was Real Madrid with 12 players total.)  This included 34-year-old John Terry and 31-year-old Branislav Ivanović playing every single minute of a 38-match Premier League season, while Eden Hazard wasn’t far behind with 3,379 minutes played.

Nemanja Matić was next on the list with 3,124 minutes played while Gary Cahill finished at 2,985. Fábregas was at 2,890 after being sent off in the second to last match of the season vs. West Brom, ending his season early.

Did Mourinho’s refusal to rotate his first-team last season have major effects?  Terry, Ivanovic and Fábregas have been Chelsea’s three worst players to begin this season. While Mourinho’s calling card was once a strong defense, this team looks lost both ends of the pitch.  Mix in an early season injury to starting goalkeeper Thibault Courtois and the results aren’t pretty.

“He’s tried everything so far, all his old tactics, coaching, confrontation, siege mentality, scorching words… nothing has seemed to work,” Sky Sports remarked on Mourinho during the match on Saturday, Oct. 3.

It’s certainly true.  Mourinho has tried everything in his bag of tricks from benching captain John Terry, to firing team physio Eva Caneiro (all of which is an entirely different matter), to leaving behind players during Champions League play.  He even substituted Matic at halftime on Saturday’s defeat only to sub him out at the 73rd minute mark for Löic Remy.  Now this has ended with Chelsea’s latest loss and the Portuguese manager daring owner Roman Abramovich to sack him.

Chelsea are in a dangerous position.  It is still early enough in the season for the team to build momentum and collect points, but is it too little too late?  Manchester City with a front four of Sergio Agüero, Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, and David Silva haven’t even hit top form yet and are rolling, while Arsenal and Manchester United will most likely keep the pace behind them.

The Blues are in major trouble due to their lack of offensive output.  Diego Costa hasn’t been effective in months and he’s either continuously injured or suspended for behavioral problems.  When watching Chelsea vs. Southampton it seemed as though the Blues strategy was to give the ball to Hazard and have him try to create something out of nothing.

The Belgian was hailed by Mourinho as better than Real Madrid star, Cristiano Ronaldo in July, but has struggled to get off the mark so far.  The reigning PFA Player of the Year has only two assists and zero goals so far in the league.

You have to wonder how Chelsea would look with the likes of Mohamed Salah, Juan Cuadrado, Kevin de Bruyne, and André Schürrle, all former Blues that Mourinho decided to jettison out of the club due to a lack of defensive commitment.

oscar

via The Guardian

The only players that seem capable of producing an offensive spark are Hazard and Oscar, both of whom were curiously dropped from Chelsea’s Champions League squad on Matchday Two vs. Porto.  Hazard was relegated to the substitutes bench, while the Brazilian was left in London altogether.

In his third season at Real Madrid — where he also won the league title the year previously — Mourinho encountered struggles like this and it turned into a full blown meltdown.  He had alienated his team so badly the Portuguese players were feuding with the Spanish ones and he accused legendary goalie Iker Casillas of leaking information to the press.

Chelsea fans should be concerned about the future of the club ahead of this season.  Things don’t look to be improving especially with the Caneiro situation potentially heading to court.  Fans should be worried of the lingering effects due to Mourinho.  Loyal players to the club were basically run into the ground by playing so many minutes last season and the young talented players could seek to leave to other clubs in the summer.

Hazard and Real Madrid are rumors that circulate on an annual basis, while Juventus was poking around for Oscar last summer.  It would be devastating to the club if those two key players decided to jump ship to greener pastures solely due to Mourinho’s impact.  For the manager who fancies himself as the world’s best, he has never been faced with a challenge quite like this in his career.

He has to do his best to patch up whatever relationships he has harmed in his locker room and swallow his own pride to grind out this season and try to earn results.  Even he is not untouchable.

“I want to carry on no doubt,” Mourinho told Sky Sports following the defeat on Oct. 3 to Southampton. “It’s time for everyone to carry on in their responsibilities.”

Mourinho needs to look in the mirror and realize that he is the major reason for Chelsea’s early season struggles and if he wants to live up to his reputation the club will only go as far as he takes it.

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