Tuesday 27 September 2016

Chelsea stumble again amid air of uncertainty

Chelsea 1 Crystal Palace 2

Dion Fanning

Published 30/08/2015 | 02:30

Chelsea's Spanish midfielder Pedro runs with the ball
Chelsea's Spanish midfielder Pedro runs with the ball
Chelsea's Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho gestures during the English Premier League football match
Chelsea's Eden Hazard in action with Crystal Palace's Joel Ward and Jason Puncheon
Bakary Sako scores the opening goal for Crystal Palace in their victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge yesterday

When Radamel Falcao equalised for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge yesterday, Jose Mourinho found something to be angry about. Falcao probably felt he was entitled to a moment of celebration but this wasn't the right moment.

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Mourinho wanted a quick restart and he wanted another goal. He got a goal but not the one he had anticipated.

This was Jose Mourinho's 100th home league game and traditionally they have followed a certain pattern. He had lost only one of the previous 99 but there is a growing sense that this is a different Chelsea, that the traditions which had been previously observed are now under threat.

It was unsurprising that Palace ended a day when they had performed with epic determination and heart by scoring the winner.

Afterwards, Mourinho spoke of his helplessness as his players depart for the international break. This is a temporary state but there are other long-term problems or, more precisely, the chaos that has surrounded the club and their manager for a month has created a sense that there is nothing left but the short-term at Stamford Bridge.

Mourinho praised Palace afterwards but he also summoned some familiar weapons. Palace deserved their luck, but they were lucky, he claimed. His team deserved more and the referee should have awarded a penalty - "A big mistake" - when Kurt Zouma's shirt was pulled in the box.

Yet there were hints at a deeper unhappiness. "A performance is a collective performance. To perform collectively you need individual performances. When opponents are good and well-organised and have nothing to lose, you need people to perform. I cannot say I had 11 players at the same time performing. To be fair, two or three individual performances were far from good. I blame myself for not changing one of them. I kept him in the game for 90 minutes. When I made the third change, I realised I needed a fourth."

He gave no indication who he was talking about but a few players who lasted the whole game could have been taken off long before. Branislav Ivanovic struggled again, while Cesc Fabregas drifted anonymously through the game, having as much impact as John Terry who was sitting in the stand.

There will be those who claim that the instability at Chelsea which has been present since Mourinho took on his medical team has nothing to do with the side's poor start.

The manager has always worked on different principles. He conquers, he divides and conquers and then, if he stays too long, he merely divides.

Whatever happens, this has been an extraordinary start to Chelsea's season. Mourinho spent some of his post-match press conference insisting that his side could still win the league and it was a strange development at the end of August for the manager of the champions to be refusing to concede the title.

Crystal Palace were superb. Damien Delaney and Scott Dann defended with organisation and passion, while Bakary Sako brought physical presence and skill to expose the vulnerabilities in the Chelsea defence.

It wasn't until the first Sunday of October last season that Mourinho had to make an alteration to his trusted back five in the Premier League. Until Thibaut Courtois went off with concussion against Arsenal, he had been able to use the same defence for every minute of the opening six games of the season.

Since Courtois was sent off after 52 minutes of the first game this season, Mourinho has been forced into constant change and, sometimes, as happened at half-time at the Etihad, he has decided to dismantle things himself.

Mourinho may thrive on chaos but not this kind of chaos. Palace exploited it here.

Alan Pardew had popped into the press room before the game and his embrace with Mourinho beforehand had the genuine warmth you'd expect when two men of their stature and self-regard hug in front of the cameras.

Pardew, more importantly, had set up a team which knew exactly what they were going to do. There was a restless mood shared among the home crowd, staff and players. Diego Costa was angrier than normal while Mourinho fumed on the sideline. "Do your job," he roared at the fourth official at one point.

When Palace did edge forward, they could reveal the uncertainties. Yohan Cabaye could have put Pardew's side ahead in the first half but in the second, Chelsea were more dominant.

But they never had control. When Yannick Bolasie came on, after missing the game last weekend due to the death of his father, things changed.

Chelsea still had chances and the game was being played in Palace's half but the counter-attack was a greater threat and soon it opened the home side up,

Bolasie made the goal down the left and while Cesar Azpilicueta slid in to put Sako off initially, it wasn't enough and he got up to give Palace the lead.

A flowing Chelsea move led to Falcao diving low to head in Pedro's cross. Alex McCarthy had a fine game but he should have done better. Falcao had his redemptive moment but Mourinho saw it differently. "The goal means nothing for the team," he said.

Almost immediately, Bolasie attacked again. Chelsea were being adventurous but there were huge gaps in their defence and, as critically, the defenders were casual. Bolasie's cross reached the unmarked Sako at the far post and he knocked it back for Joel Ward to head in.

Terry might have made a difference but Mourinho praised Zouma and Gary Cahill before offering a depressing vision of how he will spend his time during the next two weeks.

"The next match is in 15 days. I don't know what can happen in 15 days. Every player goes to their national team. I stay for two weeks with four players. I can't work, I can't improve. I can't do nothing during these two weeks to try to improve my team." He is a man alone for now but he will be planning action.

Mourinho said he had two choices with his underperforming players. He could wait for the improvement in the ones who were letting the side down or he could make changes. "I could go both ways," he said, sounding like a man who is only going to go one way.

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