Sunday, November 08, 2015
Mourinho: behind the mask of failure
Seven defeats out of 12 Premier League games. Just ponder on that for a second. That's relegation form, surely? Certainly not what you'd expect to see, three months to the day after the 2015-16 season began for the 2014-15 champions.
And, so, what next for Chelsea? José Mourinho has tried everything, including getting himself banned from being in the same stadium as his players in the hope that reverse psychology may be of benefit.
Yesterday's match against Stoke City did at least show glimpses of the Chelsea of last season: Eden Hazard almost back to his best - marauding, turning on a sixpence, confusing defenders. In front of defence, Nemanja Matic was almost back to his imperious control - stopping, gathering, delivering. And between the two, Willian didn't stop running, rushing, driving.
The trouble was, it was always almost. Lighting counter attacks failed to result in goals - Costa always just a yard short of a pass, Pedro hitting the post, sometimes no one at all being where they should have been to take advantage.
Stoke deserve all the credit for this. Mark Hughes had, typically, set his side up to frustrate - Jack Butland, who replaced Asmir Begovic when he moved to Chelsea, was, for the second time in two weeks, the difference between the two sides, stretching brilliantly to tip a shot from Ramires over the bar, and blocking a somewhat toothless Diego Costa. The thuggish Charlie Adam and his captain Ryan Shawcross kept Chelsea out with their shear physical belligerence.
At the other end, Chelsea's defence were undone by a familiar weakness: failure to close down their opponent. Marko Arnautovic's precision scissor-strike was taken as five blue shirts were on the other side of their goalkeeper.
At that, heads dropped. Chelsea's malaise this season has been typified by an apparent lack of confidence. In front of goal - theirs and their opponents'. Arnautovic's goal brought that confidence lower still. Even the arrival of Remy, Oscar and Fabregas failed to refresh the attack, with Chelsea making all the right approaches, but each time coming up against a wall of Stoke players. Only Remy came close to creating an equaliser, almost winning a late penalty when he hurdled Jack Butland's legs rather than allowed them to trip him. Again, almost.
Experienced football fans can be easily resigned to the fact that in some games, luck just doesn't go your way. "It's just one of those games," we'll say. That, however, is usually mere self-comfort. True, luck can play its part, but at the Britannia Stadium yesterday luck was only one of the factors, the other being Stoke's excellent organisation, and Chelsea's lack of cunning to unpick it.
So that's the rational view of events. Week in, week out, I've been posting about the irrational - the impact of José Mourinho's appalling behaviour, the negativity it has bred, and how it has long exceeded the idea of him drawing attention away from his players. Three months to the day when he let rip at his club doctor for doing her job, Mourinho's constant state of victimhood, his belief that the world is out to get him and the club, and his clear inability to show any degree of professional restraint, have cast an increasingly blacker cloud over his players and the club.
Sport, and sports people, like to project an image of sturdiness. Frailty is rarely countenanced. And so no one is likely to admit that the psychology at Chelsea is all wrong. Because sports people won't do that. But if the absence of Mourinho on the touchline was a factor in his players dropping their heads yesterday at Stoke, he only has himself to blame if that phone call comes from Bruce Buck, the club chairman, or even Roman Abramovic himself. Everyone has their limit, and in Abramovic's case, we have to assume that has long been exceeded.