It is mid-September and Mourinho’s Chelsea side are enduring perhaps their most difficult start in the English Premier league in over a decade; even worse that they are the defending champions – an unenviable record, only rivaled by Blackburn Rovers when they made a dismal attempt at defending their Premiership crown some 20years ago.
By every metric – goals scored and conceded, shots and chances created, possession and fowls committed – Chelsea have looked a pale shadow of their former selves, at least given the extent of their dominance just a season ago.
I know a lot of people are happy that finally, after so many years, they find me in a situation like this so fair play
After an ill-fated trip to the Goodison park last weekend – where his team let in 3goals and only managed a face-saving consolation goal from nemanja Matic – Mourinho looked a strangely new man. His point haul after the first 5 rounds of league games is the fewest he’s ever recorded.
“I don’t blame the players or myself. Everything is going against us. Even the computer we were to use for our tactical meeting before the game broke-down so we couldn’t have a tactical meeting” he said, as he bore the look of man resigned to seeing things go so wrong.
For all he’s – or rather not – been this season, the Special One has only lost some spark, not his magisterial gait. A haggard bundle of complications who only looks to himself for inspiration on how his team lines up for games. A faux pas with his medical team headed by Eva Caneiro, and a potentially protracted time in the treatment room for his most trusted pair of hands only hints at one thing: a nadir has been hit and that there was a need for some reality ‘cech’. The air of despair that enveloped the Stamford Bridge after the ‘Blues’ ignominiously succumbed to yet another Alan Pardew side was palpable. A few of the players had sinned and had fallen short of a first team place but the boss had a mind of his own even after a tacit admission of the reality that was hitting his west London club.
The special One has gambled on his popularity many times and has won but this time it appears it’s all coming back to bit him. After the Crystal Palace game, he took a dig at a few of his players and singled out one unnamed player for special bashing. One didn’t necessarily need the wisdom of Biblical Solomon to understand he was referring to Branislav Ivanovic.
The Serb has endured a time-to-forget this term in Chelsea colors. Among others, in is comedy of errors, was being caught out time and again by Jefferson Montero and Bakary Sako down his right flanks but the manager still keeps faith in him largely because of the experience and a certitude of sorts he threatens to bring to a highly inexperienced back-line – the good old John terry flittering in and out of the squad and Cahil displaced by the young Frenchman, Kurt Zouma – like any manager who places premium on pragmatism as Jose would.
Whereas it is easy to understand the wisdom in Mou’s reasoning, it is also imperative to note, experience only mitigates against ability when there is a paucity of options. This chelsea side has options.
They may be regretting a relatively quiet summer in the transfer market but they sure made some purchases who admittedly, were best recruited as reserves or back-ups but on the balance of play and on the evidence of the current goings-on in the team, could stake a huge claim to a starting berth. Radamel Falcao and Brazilian whiz kid Kenedy have already been given some bits of the cherry and both have acquainted themselves quite well. Cecs Fabregas has been trialed at different positions around the team in an attempt to hide his defensive deficiencies but has failed to lock down any of the roles at the higher ends of the pitch he’s auditioned for so far, and Kenedy’s few minutes on the pitch has been a breath of fresh air and looks to have convinced even the worst of pessimists that, given the chance, he’s got the requisite tools set to help stem his team’s inexorable slide.
Radamel has also shown glimpses of his stellar self during his time with Athletico Madrid in the face of Diego Costa’s apparent refusal to stick to his core business on the field and has been caught far too many times going to war with defenders with very little or no provocation at all. Collectively, they are not closing down quickly – unlike a typical Jose setup – They are neglecting some of the basics at the back and, with occasional exceptions like Matic’s howitzer at the Goodison’s park, they’ve lacked incision going forward.
With dwindling fortunes, and a title slowly slipping through his fingers, Jose will have to dig deep to steer the team back onto the hallowed road of sweet victories once again. It certainly doesn’t look like he’s going to be sacked as there seem to be no appetite for change at the Bridge. One area, which more than any, needs some tinkering, going forward would have to be his full backs. Mourinho’s side has looked disturbingly predictable this season as Ivanovic’s slump continues to gather momentum.
If what he said post Chelsea’s defeat at home to Crystal palace is anything go by, sooner than later, he’s going to, pull the trigger – most probably in their first champions league game against Maccabi Tel Aviv – the onus now lies squarely on the shoulders of Baba Abdul-Rahman to get this boots firmly laced and step up for a bit at glory.
When given the look-in, I have no doubt Baba can provide real challenge for Azpilicueta’s spot in Jose’s choice defensive partnerships. He is a modern full-back. Young, athletic, comfortable in possession and his pace and strength he will ensure he’s rarely beaten by an opponent. He’s got a great understanding of the game and his great sense of positioning gives him a big advantage to snuff out dangerous attacks. He loves to get involved in play so he would be providing some thrilling options upfront for his team.
If ever there were Chelsea FC fans who questioned the reason why a whopping £21m would be spent on an unproven youngster, now is the time to sit back, take a swig of their favorite liquids and watch as Baba takes to the field for the first time in Blue colors.