Tuesday 17 October 2017

Matic curses Blues' luck as dismal run continues

Stoke city 1-0 Chelsea

Stoke City's Marko Arnautovic celebrates
Stoke City's Marko Arnautovic celebrates
Chelsea’s Diego Costa clashes with Stoke City’s Ryan Shawcross on Saturday
Marko Arnautovic scores the winning goal

Simon Hart

When Chelsea last started a top-flight season in the same dismal manner as this one, back in 1978-'79, their manager, Ken Shellito, paid the price with his dismissal and replacement by Danny Blanchflower in December.

Whether Jose Mourinho lasts until then is a question that may well persist throughout the international break after Saturday's events at Stoke City. Amid the swirl of rumours about potential replacements, the focus has switched from Mourinho's absence from the Britannia Stadium bench - as he served his one-match stadium ban - to the chances of him being present when the champions' car-crash campaign resumes against Norwich City on Saturday week.

While the pressure on Mourinho must have intensified after this latest setback, courtesy of a Marko Arnautovic goal, given that this is the first time Chelsea have suffered three straight league losses since Abramovich's 2003 takeover, there were also positives to be found in defeat.

Chelsea did not play like a team who had given up on their manager. There was plenty of purpose and positive intent and they could point to their bad luck, too. Pedro struck a post, while Loic Remy paid the penalty, ironically, for staying on his feet and trying to score when referee Anthony Taylor would probably have awarded a late spot-kick had the substitute gone to ground as Jack Butland flew out.

The view of midfielder Nemanja Matic was that Chelsea "deserved more" and he insisted their form was improving. "We showed (it) in the last game in the Champions League (in beating Dynamo Kiev) and at Stoke we played good football but we didn't have any luck," he said. "We are trying to be more together, to work hard and to make the situation better but we are not having any luck."

Matic argued that "the table is not realistic", though the fact is that Chelsea sit 16th, 21 points worse off than at this stage 12 months ago. Only once in the Premier League era has a team recovered from such a start to finish in the top six.

Full-back Baba Rahman was given the run-around by Xherdan Shaqiri, while Diego Costa seemed more focused on his battle with Ryan Shawcross than providing a proper goal threat. Mourinho is understood to have given his team talk before the Chelsea players boarded their bus for the Britannia and Matic insisted "we knew what we had to do", although the Stoke manager, Mark Hughes, believed his Chelsea counterpart's absence was felt.

"Their bench is probably one of the more animated ones and I wasn't aware of them today," said Hughes, who was delighted with his team's performance and especially the efforts of record signing Shaqiri. "We wanted him on the ball, he demanded the ball and he went up against his opposite defender and showed what we know he is capable of," he said.

Independent News Service

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