It seems as though the third season syndrome is hitting José Mourinho and Chelsea hard.
The Blues lost their 5th match in 10 Premier League games (dating back to last season) at home to Southampton and sit in 16th place with 8 points from as many games. Their fall from grace has been astounding for a team that dominated the league in 2014-15.
Over recent years, the Premier League has been notoriously difficult to retain with title-holders finding it hard to maintain the same levels of hunger and performances (just ask Manchester City). This is linked to an inactive summer transfer market as teams have not felt the need to strengthen their squad and that is where the problems start for Chelsea. Before the start of the season the team had signed only Falcao and Asmir Begović. Baba Rahman and Pedro were only bought after a draw at home to Swansea and a comprehensive defeat to Manchester City. Chelsea’s summer activity doesn’t seem to have increased competition for places in the squad and as a consequence, Mourinho has found it difficult to replace core players from the squad in 2015-16.
The poor form of key players can partially be explained by the teams’ woeful pre-season in which they started a week late and did not win any games. The likes of Cesc Fàbregas, Eden Hazard and John Terry, all pivotal cogs in the title win, look slack and absent in games. Fàbregas by now had notched up a hatful of assists in 2014-15 but in 2015-16, he has only one. Eden Hazard has drifted in and out of games and Branislav Ivanović looks more like a non-league footballer at the minute. This is particularly worrying for Mourinho because at every club he has been at, he has built an incredibly strong nucleus of core players that he can rely on and at the moment the players don’t seem to be reacting in the right way.
As a result, Chelsea’s attacks are not quite as incisive and their defence is not quite as stingy. It is the latter that the Portuguese coach will be most irritated about. José prides himself on building defensively solid teams that do not give much away to the opposition teams. In 2014-15 Chelsea and Southampton were by far and away the two best defences in the league. This season the team has conceded more than 2 goals a game on average and has only kept 2 clean sheets in all competitions. There are too many occasions in which the defence looks slow and vulnerable and the amount of ‘soft’ goals they have conceded is concerning. The game against Southampton was a perfect example of cheap goals being conceded by the blues due to a lack of pace or defensive positioning.
This defensive incompetence has made Mourinho nervous on the touchline and in his press conferences he has remained his usual self by blaming the referee or the opposition team. His treatment of club doctor Eva Carneiro was anything but justified. Mourinho’s arrogance is often admirable, he is undoubtedly one of the most successful managers of this generation, but one only has to look at Jürgen Klopp’s opening press conference at Liverpool, in which he stated “I am the normal one”, to question whether Mourinho could have success without this blunt arrogance.
The fact remains: where does this leave Chelsea and Mourinho?
The first time the Portuguese departed Stamford Bridge in 2007-08, he left by mutual consent after a draw against Rosenborg in the Champions League and a league position much less bleak than the current one. Mourinho’s comments after the Southampton game mentioning the sack were quite telling but it is unlikely that the board will want to show him the proverbial ‘door’. Firstly, he will probably demand a substantial pay-off and secondly there aren’t that many other top managers around that could replace him. Carlo Ancelotti is unlikely to return to Stamford Bridge and the aforementioned Klopp has decided to rejuvenate a lacklustre Liverpool.
Therefore Mourinho is likely to stay at least for the foreseeable future and will face the greatest managerial challenge of his career. The Portuguese man will have to galvanise a team that is completely lacking in confidence, shore up the defence and make the attack more of a threat. All this without the help of any funds for new players (at least until January).
Mourinho hasn’t been in charge of a ‘lesser team’ since coaching União de Leiria in 2001-02. He will have to use all of his managerial nous to get the team back to its best form at the start of 2014-15. At the moment title talk will probably be put on hold, whilst he tries to fix the problems but given Manchester City’s enigmatic nature when they are without Sergio Agüero and Vincent Kompany, it cannot be ruled out just yet.
It is time for Mourinho to prove that he is still the best in the business.