From champions to sluggish also-rans - Where has it all gone wrong at Chelsea?
What has caused alarming downturn in champions' form, who are already 11 points behind current Premier League leaders Manchester City?
Published 13/09/2015 | 14:20
Jose Mourinho faces a huge task to quickly repair the shattered confidence of his Chelsea players who already fear they may have fallen too far behind Manchester City to successfully defend their Premier League title.
Last season’s champions Chelsea slumped to their third defeat of the season against Everton and trail leaders City by 11 points after picking up just four points from five games.
Manager Mourinho is now under growing pressure to turn around Chelsea’s form, but his biggest task is to re-instill the belief that saw them top the table for the whole of last term.
In the search for answers to their shocking downturn in form, Chelsea players have questioned their preparations for the season, whether or not the defenders can play the higher defensive line Mourinho has experimented with at times, the club’s transfer policy and the size of the squad.
More worrying for Mourinho, however, is the fact that there is a growing sense among the squad that the Premier League title may be slipping out of their grasp after just five games.
Mourinho’s decision to remove doctor Eva Carneiro and physio Jon Fearn from his bench has caused unwanted controversy, but is not being linked to the poor form of Chelsea’s players.
While nobody saw it at the time, the problems for Mourinho and Chelsea started in July when the players returned for pre-season training a week later than their rivals.
Mourinho had reasoned that his players deserved more time off after being worked so hard last season, but the plan has backfired badly.
Chelsea’s players have appeared sluggish during the opening weeks of the season, with last season’s stars, Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas, John Terry and Diego Costa, all struggling to reproduce anywhere near their best form.
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The feeling within the dressing-room is that Chelsea are paying the price for not starting the season at the same physical level as their opponents.
Other than starting pre-season late, Chelsea players suffered from jet-lag in the days leading up to the Community Shield defeat to Arsenal, having returned from their US tour just four days before the Wembley game.
That only added to the sense that Chelsea were playing catch-up in their preparations and the decision to give the squad two days off after the opening day draw with Swansea City came as surprise, as Costa went to Ibiza and Fabregas returned to Spain.
Other than their physical difficulties, Chelsea have conceded 12 goals in their first five games with captain Terry, Gary Cahill and, in particular, Branislav Ivanovic incapable of playing a higher defensive line together.
Ivanovic’s dreadful form has been one of the most surprising aspects of Chelsea’s start to the season and the 31-year-old has been caught out on a number of occasions.
He does not look fast enough to cope with trying to play further forwards and the right-back is now in real danger of losing his starting place.
Mourinho has turned to Kurt Zouma to try to solve his problems in the centre of defence, having admitted he needed his fastest defender on the pitch when he substituted Terry in the defeat to City and switched to a higher line at the back.
Terry has since regained his place, but Mourinho preferred Zouma next to the 34-year-old – rather than Cahill – at Goodison Park.
Chelsea’s problems at the back would no doubt have been helped if the club had landed Everton’s John Stones, but it is not just their failure to sign the England international that has left players confused.
There was a feeling that Chelsea needed a bigger squad to compete for both the Premier League title and Champions League after the club were knocked out of Europe by Paris Saint-Germain last season.
But Chelsea have stuck rigidly to their one in, one out policy and Mourinho has the same number of players to pick from this term.
It is also questionable whether Chelsea have in fact strengthened over the summer. Mourinho was powerless to stop Petr Cech leaving and the club did well to secure a new deputy goalkeeper of the standard of Asmir Begovic. The signing of Pedro ahead of Manchester United was also a success.
But Radamel Falcao is yet to prove he will perform better than he did for Manchester United and put any real pressure on Costa. Baba Rahman is yet to make his debut, despite the awful form of Mourinho’s defence.
It is understood Chelsea considered the merits of trying to sign Falcao or Christian Benteke before settling on the Colombian. The Belgian would surely have been the better long-term choice.
The two most questionable transfers happened in the final days of the window, as Papy Djilobodji arrived from Nantes and Michael Hector was signed and promptly loaned back to Reading.
Championship club Fulham had rejected the chance to sign Djilobodji earlier in the summer and Mourinho has admitted it was not his choice to sign the 26-year-old, who has not been included in Chelsea’s Champions League squad.
Hector’s signature can perhaps be best explained by the fact Chelsea have developed a close relationship with Reading over recent years.
Mourinho said his players are still champions after the Everton defeat. They need to start believing that again before it is too late.