Mourinho starting to lose air of superiority Blues fans question 'Special One' after latest inept performance
Chelsea 2 West brom 2
Published 11/11/2013 | 02:00
As the Chelsea players made their way from the pitch on Saturday, a supporter sitting near the press box articulated the feeling of many.
"What's going on Jose?" he yelled in the direction of the home manager. "For goodness sake, sort it out." Except he did not say 'goodness.' 'Goodness' was not a word on anyone's lips after this display.
These are confusing times at Stamford Bridge. Here were Chelsea rescuing Jose Mourinho's extraordinary unblemished 65-game Premier League home record in the most dramatic manner with an equalising penalty awarded deep into injury-time, and instead of relief, the overwhelming sense around the ground was one of gathering frustration.
As has become a worrying pattern for the Chelsea regulars of late, their team had looked in uninspiring form. Listless, unimaginative and lacking in purpose, they had spent most of the game unable to break West Bromwich Albion's defensive lockdown.
Both Chelsea goals had been gifted to them. The first – when Samuel Eto'o took advantage of Liam Ridgewell's lapse to snaffle a poacher's finish – had come at the end of a thoroughly forgettable first half.
The second, right at the death, was a product of referee Andre Marriner's largesse after Ramires had tumbled in the area under the slightest of contact from Steven Reid.
From the penalty spot Eden Hazard secured the point with considerably more application than he demonstrated at passport control during the week.
Steve Clarke, the visiting manager, was furious at what he described as last-minute robbery.
Though in truth his anger may have been exacerbated by the realisation that his side should have been away by then, the unlikeliest of three points safely tucked up their Milan-style away shirts.
After showing admirable resolve for 90 minutes, with the first win on this ground in 35 years in sight, the visitors lost collective focus in added time.
First Chris Brunt ballooned a breakaway chance over the bar, then the substitute Goran Popov haplessly ceded possession in the lead-up to Chelsea's equaliser, when a cool head would have instructed him to take the ball to the corner flag and wind down the clock.
"Small details," Clarke called his players' critically poor decision-making in the last moments. "Small details we wouldn't be talking about if the referee had got the big detail right."
The big detail that mattered for the Chelsea fans, though, was the alarming departure of the defensive solidity on which so much of the Mourinho success in the past was built.
Ahead of Remembrance Sunday, the teams were led out on to the pitch by a platoon of Chelsea pensioners – or John Terry, Frank Lampard and Petr Cech as they are better known round here.
Indeed, the veterans in red coats may well have put up a more spritely resistance to keep out West Brom. Terry and Lampard were rooted to the turf when the effervescent Shane Long outjumped them on the hour to cancel out Eto'o's opener.
Cech looked singularly arthritic as he failed to keep out Stephane Sessegnon's underhit shot which gave the visitors a deserved lead eight minutes later.
You wondered what Ashley Cole, watching yet again from the bench, would have made of their discomfort.
As has happened so often this season, the interest at the Bridge was as much in who was not playing as who was. Following the previous enforced absences of Juan Mata, David Luiz and Hazard, it was the stalwart left-back's turn to watch his team-mates labour from afar. In a week when Leighton Baines may well supersede him in the national side, here was growing evidence that time may finally be catching up on a great footballing institution.
"I can make mistakes, I can be unfair, for sure I am and for sure I do that, but I always give a lot of thought to my decisions," Mourinho said of his choice of playing a right-back out of position ahead of Cole.
"I decided for (Cesar) Azpilicueta to play against Schalke and he was fantastic. On Saturday he was very good again."
Cole, he suggested, knew the means to return. After shouldering the blame for his side's woeful showing at Newcastle last weekend, all the player has to do is roll his sleeves up.
"Ashley is a top professional, he is a fighter. He has to work hard, to fight hard because the place (in the team) is his place. Of course it is not Azpilicueta's best position and it is not a position where Ashley can think that he is in trouble now. No, he has just to work and fight and the position is there waiting for him, no problem."
Mourinho's was a fair analysis of a player suffering from what may be no more than a temporary loss of direction.
The manager's problem at the moment is that Cole is not alone; it is an analysis he could apply to any one of his underperforming regulars. (© Daily Telegraph, London)