As you might imagine, Chelsea fans are absolutely baffled by what’s going on with their team this season. Last season’s comfortable Premier League champion has already lost three of its first five games, matching its total losses for the entire 2014-15 title-winning campaign in early September. The Blues are currently 17th, two points above the relegation zone, and a whopping 11 points behind Premier League pace-setter Manchester City, which is perfect so far.
Off The Post is beginning to think that we might not win the league this season.
Meanwhile, despite the club’s worst beginning to a season in the Roman Abramovich or Premier League era, coach Jose Mourinho keeps telling everyone that the team is playing better than the results, that he is the right man for the job and that things will change.
That, believe it or not, is the right message.
Of course, the Portuguese is also up to his usual shenanigans, too, bringing up unrelated forces and/or third parties in his press conferences, like the whole issue with first-team doctor Eva Carneiro or the recent fight with Everton coach Roberto Martinez over something that clearly isn’t in the Spaniard’s control. Mourinho uses these tactics to protect his players from criticism, so he can do his real work with them behind the scenes.
To be sure, this is becoming a tiresome act. The problem is, it might not be an act. Though Mourinho would probably be better off at this point blaming his players -- though maybe not naming names -- instead of introducing the next red herring, he knows that both he and the media need a scapegoat, so instead, he goes and vents his frustrations at his medical team or the opposing team manager.
The Portuguese likes to talk about his players as “eggs”, which indicates how delicately he feels he needs to handle them. Is their confidence really so fragile that he can’t tell them how poorly they’re playing right now?
OTP, for one, certainly hopes not.
Mourinho is notorious for being able to get players on his side and make them feel, first, indispensible, and second, capable of “killing a lion” as midfielder Willian once put it. His relationship with his players is all about telling them how fantastic they are and then demanding the world from them because they are indeed so fantastic and capable of delivering the world.
But what do you do if suddenly that tactic backfires? What if the ball bounces the wrong way a few times, you lose a few games and suddenly you don’t feel like you’re maybe as fantastic as your coach keeps telling you that you are? What do you do if all that confidence paid out in sweat equity suddenly deflates in multiple core players at once?
Big players from last season like Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas, Branislav Ivanovic and Nemanja Matic are playing pretty poorly right now, and someone needs to get them out of their funk. They each need an individual talking to, a dose of reality, and in the case of Ivanovic, at least, possibly a new role. The Serbia international, at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds and 31 years of age, doesn’t stand a chance any longer in one-on-one situations against the Premier League’s younger and lighter players. He should be moved to center-back, a position he can certainly play, giving the young Ghanaian Baba Rahman a chance. In retrospect, Mourinho really should have bought another fullback, but now he’ll have to wait until January, at least.
Even so, Mourinho has problems all over the field: what to do about the aging John Terry, who will only get slower as the season drags on; how to get better performances out of Fabregas and Matic, who must control the middle if Chelsea is going to start winning games again; how to get Diego Costa, who always looks one yellow card away from getting sent-off, to concentrate on his soccer and not fighting everyone all the time.
Rather like the phenomenon of deflation in economics, in soccer, when you’re losing, you start to question yourself; you start to save your energy thinking you might need it for the next play instead of the current one. It’s a monster that can feed on itself if you don’t stamp it out.
And that’s exactly what Mourinho needs to do: he needs to be the grown-up here; instead of acting out like a child and concentrating on how to manipulate the press, he needs to get to the root of the problem by talking to his players to stamp out the pervading loss of confidence coursing through his team right now.
If he does, it might be his biggest achievement, even if Chelsea doesn’t win a thing this season.
If that happens, who knows? Maybe the Blues can still qualify for the Champions League next season.