Déjà Blue – Why is history repeating itself in Mourinho’s third season?

By Kieran Moriarty ronnie macdonald mourinho pic

There is no hiding from the statistics in Premier League football. Eight games played, 8 points on the board. The worst points total for this team in their entire top flight history since 1978-1979, back in the old days when a win was only worth two. The second highest number of goals conceded by a team in the division. The third lowest number of goals scored. Three wins in the last eight games across all competitions, one of which was against an under strength League One Walsall.

However, amongst all of this damning numerical evidence gleaned from the Premier League standings, which reveals how dreadfully wrong things are going for this team, one number stands out above all. Scrolling down the league positions, the number 16 and its accompanying team dazzles the eye like a gaudy Vegas illumination, reducing everything that surrounds it into an insignificant blur. In 16th languish Chelsea, reacquainting themselves with the unfamiliar close proximity of the relegation zone, not experienced since 1998. To the horror of fans and the bemusement of the rest of the footballing world, what has happened to the defending champions?

If you were looking for a microcosm for Chelsea’s abysmal start to the season, look no further than Southampton’s final goal in their resounding 3-1 at Stamford Bridge last weekend. Within the catalogue of errors that led to Graziano Pelle’s clinical finish, the main offenders responsible for Chelsea’s appalling recent form all demonstrated once again how far below the standards they set themselves last year they are, when they won the league at a canter.

Following an unsuccessful cross from the left wing from Nemanja Matic, where the holding central midfielder appeared to be suffering from delusions of grandeur that he was a winger, Southampton regained possession while Matic was woefully stranded out wide. From the ensuing clearance, the ball was nodded down by John Terry, filling in the vacated midfield position of the holding midfielder. In a snapshot that should have set alarm bells ringing, the centre-mid was on the wing and the centre-back was in the centre of the midfield. Hardly the restoration of defensive solidity that Terry was supposed to herald on his return to the team.

However, who better for Terry to give the ball to when chasing a game, then last season’s PFA Player of the Year Eden Hazard? He is a footballer that Mourinho had recently labelled better than Cristiano Ronaldo. Except this season, this claim seems utterly delusional. The Belgian simply has not been that same player whom Jose was lauding so brazenly in the summer.

In a mistake typical of his misfiring season, Hazard carelessly gifted the ball to the livewire Saido Mane and with that, the striker gleefully raced into the heart of the Chelsea defence, while the shambolically out of position blue shirts frantically chased after him. An insightful through ball was played to the advancing Pelle, who had time to take a touch and pick his spot before firing his shot into the net, delivering yet another hammer blow to this beleaguered Chelsea team.

Breaking down that third goal into its constituent parts, it is painfully clear to see all that has been wrong with Chelsea this season. There has been a complete dereliction of duty from players all over the pitch, whether that be in the midfield or in defence. Whether that be the midfielders not doing their job properly and being in their proper positions, or defenders standing off attackers for far too long, inviting them to shoot, these problems have been seen time and time again in games this season.

In the past, Mourinho’s most successful teams have been renowned for being composed of fiercely loyal, strong, hard-working players, who look like they would be willing to run through walls for the manager if he asked them to.

Despite last season’s triumph, this current Chelsea squad do not have those same characteristics. Too many players this season have not performed. As Mourinho has said when trying to offer some explanation for Chelsea’s travails, you can get away with one or two players not performing at their best. However, when the malaise affects the whole team, the situation becomes far more serious.

The shocking substitution of Nemanja Matic, just half an hour after he was introduced as a sub himself to the game, summed up the widespread underperformance at Chelsea this season. While it was an extreme response from Jose, you cannot help but think many other players in this team have equally deserved to suffer this indignity at some point this season. Key players such as Matic, Fabregas, Cahill and most strikingly, Branislav Ivanovic, have declined at an alarming rate, weakening the team to such an extent that any team in the division now fancies their chances of getting three points at Stamford Bridge. Following respective wins against West Brom and Arsenal, there was always a knee jerk assumption Chelsea had turned a corner. It has clearly been proven that this has not been the case.

However, Chelsea’s decline has not been instantaneous. It was evident in the closing stages of the season but was brushed off as fatigue from a long campaign, which would be easily eradicated by the summer break. This has not happened, as seen by the lethargy that plagues this Chelsea team.

To compound this problem, the bizarre lack of investment in refreshing the squad has now come back to haunt Chelsea. Once maligned for their spending sprees, they have been left behind by the canny acquisitions that Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal have made over the last two seasons and this is reflected by their contrasting league positions.

The players are an obvious cause of blame but how much can be laid at the door of the Special One? Mourinho signed a long-term contract at the club with the idealistic vision of building a dynasty at the club, reminiscent of Sir Alex Ferguson.

The reality is that Jose is a very different type of manager to the United legend. He has never been one to stick around long-term at any top club he has managed and has usually departed quickly from his post following a lacklustre third season, which is often characterised by a disappointing start to the season, collective drop in his players’ performances and increasingly confrontational broadsides at his fellow managers and the media, to deflect criticism away. In other words, he suffers from third season syndrome.

Mourinho has not been the charmer that he once was which led the media to love him. In his second spell at Chelsea, he has been moody, miserable and at times outrageous, alienating him from that once adoring media. One could easily suggest the same has now happened with his own players.

There are so many problems at Chelsea and not very many answers. Sacking the manager is the traditional Chelsea response to crisis yet they have vowed to be different and weather this storm, backing the manager. But for how long? Mourinho has said that this has been the worst period in his hugely successful career. To fix this problem and banish the criticisms that he flees when the going gets tough, Mourinho now really does need to prove he is The Special One.

Photograph: Ronnie MacDonald via Wikimedia Commons

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