The writing on the wall was very clear from the second half of the 2014-15 season of the English Premier League when Chelsea just managed to drag itself over the finishing line to win its first EPL title in five years. The victories became hard fought and post match analysis of Chelseaa s performances by football pundits also became dull and disappointing. Chelseaa s struggles started becoming evident with a dip in performances of key players like Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas, which should have set alarm bells ringing loud enough for Jose Mourinho to prepare his title defence the following season. Yet Chelsea find themselves in an unenviable position as they fight to recuperate from their worst ever start to an EPL season after 8 games since 1978-79.
A below par summer transfer window, where Chelsea failed to secure the services of targets John Stones and Paul Pogba, was followed by a poor pre-season campaign, where Chelsea won just one match. The EPL season started on an ominous note for The Blues with the needless and now infamous Eva Carneiro incident that sent the entire football world into shock over the treatment of medical staff by Jose Mourinho. In the very next match, Mourinho again took a controversial decision of substituting John Terry, who was at the heart of Chelseaa s title winning defence, at half time against Manchester City. Chelseaa s defence has continued to crumble since then with Branislav Ivanovic being the villain in chief. Yet surprisingly Ivanovic continued to enjoy Mourinhoa s confidence and kept returning awful results with his equally awful performances. Chelsea’s issues are compounded by a weakened midfield where Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas have not been able to repeat their spectacular midfield partnership that defined Chelseaa s success last season. They have failed to protect the leaky defence and havena t really fed Chelseaa s attack either. Diego Costa has had his share of problems with his on field behaviour. The three match suspension he got after the Arsenal match proved costly against Newcastle United and Southampton.
What is most disturbing and worrying for Jose Mourinho and all Chelsea fans is the form of Eden Hazard. The man, who won the PFA Player of the Year award in May, was left on the bench in the match against Aston Villa. This was the first match for Chelsea in 18 months that didna t have Hazard in its starting line up. He has been criticised for not having been able to induce much needed energy into Chelseaa s attack. He hasna t scored even once for his team this season and has had a poor shot accuracy of 44% (as compared to 59% last season). The key midfielder has made only 4 interceptions and 3 successful tackles. If the comparison of his work rate is done with his fellow players, Willian is averaging 65 high intensity sprints per 90 minutes this season with Pedro at 62; Hazard is dipping down to 56 sprints. However he has created 28 chances, the most by any Chelsea player this season, which include 2 assists and 26 key passes. Hazard is still among the better players at Chelsea, he probably needs just one good game to turn around his form and get back to his class. The public criticism he has received from Jose Mourinho has not helped his confidence though.
Another player for whom Mourinho has reserved his public criticism is Nemanja Matic. Therea s no doubt that the player hasna t done enough as well. Though he has scored only one goal this season that came against Everton but as a defensive midfielder has made 15 clearances, 21 interceptions, 9 successful take ons and 28 successful tackles while Fabregas has made just 7 clearances, 12 interceptions, 5 take ons and 14 successful tackles. The big difference is that while Fabregas has created 17 chances for Chelsea this season, Matic has just created 7. Matic also didna t start for Chelsea against Aston Villa and has been publicly ridiculed by Jose for his below par performances. Matic last season also scored fewer goals but proved to be an absolutely remarkable defender as well as an attacking midfielder. Matic did show signs of resilience and came excellent against Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League fixture mid week that earned him the Man of the Match award and it was reminiscent of his exceptional talent that was a common denominator in Chelsea’s performances last season.
Tuesday evening in the Champions League ended on a good note for Chelsea with a lot of positives coming out of the match. Chelsea twice hit the woodwork and was denied a penalty as they were held to a goalless draw by Dynamo Kiev in their Group G encounter. Hazard and Matic had much improved performances. Hazard almost scored on his return before his shot was tipped onto the post by Oleksandr Shovkovskiy. With 90% pass accuracy against Kiev, Hazard also created 3 key chances for the team. Matic too is looking like returning to his top form. With 4 clearances, 1 interception and 4 successful take-ons, Matic had a very good chance at the goal but the shot went a little wide. The defensive discipline also seems to be coming back as Chelsea has now kept two consecutive clean sheets in all competitions.
Mourinho may have been blaming everyone else for Chelseaa s poor results. He has been taking pot-shots at the referees for poor referring and has been publicly ridiculing some of his players for not doing enough. Even his backroom staff were not spared. All that put together has compounded Chelseaa s problems, but Mourinho has to take a large part of the blame himself. He didna t ensure enough signings this season to fill the gaping holes to improve the squad and the ones Mourinho brought in like Baba Rahman and Kenedy have not been utilised much so far. The young Chelsea fledglings like Ruben Loftus Cheek havena t been given many chances to develop themselves as full time senior players either. Mourinhoa s overdependence on Ivanovic has not been fruitful. Benching John Terry often this season has not only brought down the team’s morale but has also made them lack a very good leader on the field. Mourinho stated that leaving quality players on the bench is a tactical decision which can bring tactical discipline in the team. Well this would look alright if Chelsea can regain their killer form that earned them the EPL title last season. Jose Mourinho has a mountain to climb and he needs to instill confidence into the players and the fans that he is the only manager capable of pulling Chelsea out of the mess that he seems to have created himself.
This is a guest post written exclusively for TheHardTackle by Dr. Sanya Singh.