Thursday 14 November 2019

Nightmare at the Bridge as Chelsea hit new low

Chelsea 1 Southampton 3

Chelsea's Belgian midfielder Eden Hazard (R) vies with Southampton's Northern Irish midfielder Steven Davis (2nd R)
Chelsea's Belgian midfielder Eden Hazard (R) vies with Southampton's Northern Irish midfielder Steven Davis (2nd R)
Graziano Pelle of Southampton celebrates scoring his team's third goal
Pedro of Chelsea in action
Jose Mourinho looks on during last night’s defeat to Southampton at at Stamford Bridge

Dion Fanning

Jose Mourinho sat in the dugout at Stamford Bridge last night, which was the only indication a Jose Mourinho side had been playing at Stamford Bridge last night

Southampton exposed every flaw and every anxiety in the Premier League champions, as they came from behind to win, but it was hard to believe they were playing against the team which had won another title for Mourinho last May.

This was a game which seemed to condense every Chelsea problem this season into an excruciating 90 minutes. Branislav Ivanovic was humiliated from the moment Southampton moved Dusan Tadic out to the left to torment him. Nemanja Matic was sent on at half-time as a troubleshooter and was taken off 17 minutes from the end, with the trouble now too big for him to contain. Cesc Fabregas lasted the 90 minutes but maybe only to serve as a lightning rod for the supporters' anger, although lightning rods have greater mobility.

Southampton's performance is likely to be overlooked, which will be unfortunate, but what is happening at Chelsea is extraordinary. Leeds United and Blackburn Rovers have made flimsy attempts to retain their league title in the past 25 years but they were not led by a man as accustomed to titles as Mourinho.

This is Chelsea's worst start to a season since 1978, when they were relegated. They have lost four of their first eight league games, they are four points outside the relegation positions, the crowd booed Mourinho's substitutions and the manager spent his time afterwards saying he would not resign, that Chelsea will have to sack him if they want him to go.

When Sadio Mane put Southampton ahead with half an hour remaining, Mourinho moved from his seat, clapped his hands and tried to encourage his players. Club captain John Terry had been horribly turned by Mane in the build-up to the goal, which was probably vindication for one of Mourinho's decisions this season at least.

There was no fightback from Chelsea. They looked like a team providing material for a coaching course on how to spot when players have stopped playing for their manager. They didn't manage a shot for half an hour in the second half and by that stage Southampton were 3-1 up, with Graziano Pelle driving in a fine finish.

Mourinho has tried a lot to get this thing functioning and yesterday he made the most radical change of all: he recalled Terry. Until yesterday, there seemed to be no problem that Terry could fix in Mourinho's eyes. He had made one start in the previous five games but even that told a story: he had led the team out at Walsall in the Capital One Cup. At this stage of his career, Chelsea's captain might have hoped that the games he was allowed skip were the early rounds of England's minor cup competition on the outskirts of Birmingham.

Mourinho made another play for defensive stability by recalling the rock on which he had once built his church. Just before half-time, Steven Davis drove in an equaliser, which was the 15th goal Chelsea have conceded this season, as many as they let in during the entire 04/05 season.

Solidity was once Mourinho's calling card but the first half, even with that equaliser, was a highpoint in the game, maybe even in the season.

Willian had put them ahead with another curling free-kick from wide on the left but that was as good as it got.

The equaliser seemed to offer a reminder for Chelsea but they weren't paying attention. The back four wandered around, with Ivanovic in a permanent daze like a character in a dystopian movie who has woken up to the end of the world

Chelsea have beaten four teams this season - Walsall, Maccabi Tel Aviv, West Brom and Arsenal. Once they equalised, Southampton never looked like being added to the list.

Mourinho said last week that this was the worst period of his career. Here he fumed about the referee but it sounded like a man grasping for what he believed Jose Mourinho should say in these circumstances. He ended the night giving himself the dreaded vote of confidence but things may be about to get a whole lot worse.

The final minutes yesterday were played out in front of a half-full Stamford Bridge. Those who remained seemed to take pity on the players but it felt as if this was a club or a manager reaching a point of no return. It's not dark yet, but it's getting there.

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