Jose Mourinho must keep Porto at bay to survive storm
Chelsea 0 - Bournemouth 1
Roman Abramovich still wants to keep Jose Mourinho as manager despite Chelsea suffering an eighth league defeat of a miserable season on Saturday, but there is a growing belief in the club's higher circles that Champions League elimination on Wednesday could force the owner's hand.
There was widespread belief around the club in the last week that they were past the worst of the crisis and that "the storm is over" - as was reflected in the manager's upbeat mood in his press conference before the Bournemouth game.
However, defeat by a Glenn Murray goal has caused doubt to resurface ahead of Wednesday's Champions League match against Porto at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea must avoid a loss to ensure they reach the last 16 of the competition.
Although the possibility of sacking Mourinho has been discussed at the top level of the club a few times this season, Abramovich has remained strong in his belief that the Portuguese should be given time to turn things around, partially because the owner wants Chelsea to start doing things differently and partially because of a lack of options.
With the champions having scored only one goal in their last four league games, Abramovich has sanctioned January signings to help drag the club out of their current malaise.
However, it remains to be seen whether or not Chelsea will allow Mourinho have the final say on targets or, instead, pursue players the club believe will be good signings regardless of who is in charge.
In terms of attacking players, technical director Michael Emenalo has been assessing Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy, West Bromwich Albion's Saido Berahino and Shakhtar Donetsk forward Alex Teixeira.
But Mourinho may prefer to bid for a more recognised star such as Napoli's Gonzalo Higuain, while he knows free agent Emmanuel Adebayor well from their spell together at Real Madrid.
Chelsea could boost their January funds by selling Juan Cuadrado to Juventus in a permanent £16m deal and create space on the wage bill by allowing Radamel Falcao to cut short his loan spell if an interested club can be found.
A blank against Bournemouth, whose only previous clean sheet away from home this season had come against Hartlepool in the League Cup, meant Chelsea have now scored just one goal in their last four Premier League games.
While Mourinho once again insisted he will not ask Abramovich for new signings, his assessment that the team's goalscoring problems are down to individuals suggests he believes the club should invest in a new forward.
"Scoring goals is a lot about individuals," said Mourinho.
"The creation's collective, but the finishing's something very individual. We didn't score against Stoke or Tottenham. We scored one goal to beat Norwich. It's difficult for us to score goals."
Diego Costa once again started on the substitutes' bench for the visit of Bournemouth and looked more likely to earn a red card than add to his meagre tally of four goals this season after he was introduced for the second half.
Eden Hazard was one of Chelsea's better players, but it is now 25 games since he last netted for Mourinho's team.
Willian is the club's top scorer with six goals, but none of them have come from open play, while Pedro Rodriguez, Oscar and Falcao have one apiece in the Premier League.
Chelsea's best hope of a goal against newly promoted Bournemouth came in the form of a penalty appeal that was incorrectly ignored by referee Michael Jones after Costa's low cross clearly hit the arm of the sliding Simon Francis.
Despite spending much of the second half on the back foot, the visitors created the better chances during the opening period and forced returning Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois into good saves from Junior Stanislas and Joshua King.
Courtois, though, was partly at fault for the 82nd-minute goal that condemned Chelsea to their eighth Premier League defeat of the season and means they are 14 points behind fourth-placed Manchester United and only three above the relegation zone.
The Belgian failed to punch a Stanislas corner away from danger and Steve Cook hooked the ball back towards goal for substitute Glenn Murray to nod into the net just 99 seconds after being introduced.
Chelsea's fans, who have effectively saved Mourinho up to this point with their continual chanting of his name, loudly booed their disapproval at the final whistle with Abramovich watching from his seat.
Losing games is bad enough for Mourinho, but losing the Stamford Bridge fans would almost certainly spell the end. Defeat on Wednesday would be a bridge too far for even the most loyal of Mourinho's supporters - as well as Abramovich. The Russian is known to prize the Champions League far above all other competitions and one factor that has bolstered his belief that Mourinho can turn things around has been that they have stayed on course in that competition.
Missing out on the Champions League would cost the Blues at least £40m and, while increased television revenue and various commercial deals would help to soften the blow, it would still be felt. (© Independent News Service)