Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What did I miss at Chelsea? Nothing, apparently.

Twitter/Chelsea FC

The arrangement we had was this: I would go away on holiday for a couple of weeks, recharge the batteries, reconnect with reality and all that, and Chelsea would do something about their form. Thus, a 4-0 win over Maccabi Tel-Aviv, a 2-0 win over Arsenal, and a 4-1 win over Walsall were recorded.

And then the day before I get on the plane home, a 2-2 draw against Newcastle. OK, perhaps a warnng. And then last night, 48 hours after I'd returned to my adopted Parisian soil, Chelsea lost to Porto. Coincidence?

Well, right now, I'll take any explanation. Whatever confidence and mental strength returned to José's team while I was soaking up the Sicilian sunshine had evaporated by last night, and with much the same rapidity as my tan is fading. The most perturbing thing of all is that Mourinho, for all the sports press's conciliatory acknowledgement of his proven brilliance as a manager, currently appears to be moving in the opposite direction of the plot. Why else would he have moved on from blaming errant doctors for his team's ills, to singling out individual players...and not exactly the right ones?

Before last night's game there was talk him that no Chelsea player was 'untouchable', with up to six players at risk of being dropped for the Champions League group game against his old club. Noticeably, John Terry sat the entire game out on the substitutes' bench, with last season's PFA Players' Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year, Eden Hazard, suffering a similar penance until 20 minutes from the end.

Granted, Terry's pace has increasingly been a question (face facts - he'll never be Esher's answer to Usain Bolt, which explains his choice of disabled bays to park outside chip shops...) when the faster, younger Kurt Zouma is available, but even then the 34-year-old's lionine spirit has carried Chelsea through many a European fixture.

Hazard's starting absence was more baffling: true, he hasn't been the player he was last season, but he's still one of the quickest and most inventive forwards in the game. Loic Remy, Oscar and Radamel Falcao didn't even get on the plane to Portugal, suggesting they were being made to atone for their lack of success in front of and around goal. But has Costa really been any better? Oscar does, it must be said, blow hot and cold, which might explain why Mourinho chose the on-fire Willian, plus Pedro and Ramires to start in the attacking midfield roles.

However, one of the real villains of the piece, Branislav Ivanovic, continues to play and, in Terry's absence, captains the side. He has consistently been the worst element in a chronically ineffective defence so far this season, and yet for apparently spurious reasons, Mourinho seems to prefer him over Azpiliqueta playing at right-back, with newboy Baba Rahman coming in on the left.

Even when it is obvious to the most comprehension-challenged individual like me that Ivanovic has gone missing too often - last night he lost Brahimi, which eventually lead to André André (so good they named him twice) scoring on the rebound just before half time - something seems to be perilously wrong about his apparently untouchable inclusion.

And if the answer to Matic undeperforming in the holding position is to bring in John Obi Mikel - whose ever-presence in the team for the last nine seasons has baffled everyone - you can be easily tempted to think that Mourinho is now writing his teamsheets in green crayon.

On the one hand he defends his selections as not being personal ("No punishment, just a decision" - an explanation not far from Michael Corleone's "its strictly business"...) and then in the same breath denounce the woeful defending ("It makes me really angry because the easiest thing to do is to defend set-pieces"), which may have been improved by not having the worst defender out on the pitch.

There is, too, some valid argument from Rio Ferdinand last night on BT Sport that Chelsea lack leadership on the pitch. Ivanovic - the club's vice-captain - is nowhere near Terry in this regard. In fact, despite Terry being regarded by most non-Chelsea fans to be as reprehensible an individual as it's possible to be, short of beng a practising pedarist or Donald Trump, he is by far one of the greatest leaders on the pitch English football has produced in a generation.

And, yet, when his leadership is needed most, he's on the bench, starting at the tracksuit stitching on the assistant coach sat in front of him.

There is something foul and ragged about Chelsea right now. As WWDBD? wrote a couple of weeks ago, the mentality of the side which so imperiously won the Premier League title last season has disappeared. It's down to the manager to fix it, but will he if players are being arbitrarily dropped?

Mourinho appears to have tried most tricks in his Special One playbook: in the course of the last six weeks of competitive play, Chelsea have suffered five defeats. During this time, he has attempted to deflect attention (casualty: Dr. E Carneiro), he has been beguilingly nice about his under-performing players, he has cranked up the criticism and maid veiled threats, and then gone and dropped players which, frankly, could have been useful.

Of the players that have responded, only Begovic (who had a mighty wobble during pre-season) has shone, with Willian and, as a sub, Ramires demonstrating any kind of fight of the kind Terry himself wouid and has exhibited in the past.

Fight is not a word you would readily choose to use with Diego Costa, and when he's not trying to start one, or suspended from causing one, is at least a threat. Still, he himself questioned the mentality of the players around him: "We are all united. It's not a good moment now. We must do more," he said, presumably through an interpreter on the club website. "We have a good squad with a great deal of quality. We have maybe lost some confidence in three or four games."

There is no maybe or some confidence about it. The mindset at Chelsea right now is all wrong. It's up to the manager to fix it. And maybe, just maybe, the application of tough love isn't the way to do it.

No comments:

Post a Comment