Tinkerman Jose still searching for winning mix
Mourinho's rotation policy causing concern as Chelsea struggle to find real consistency
JOSE MOURINHO'S rotation policy has caused apprehension among members of the Chelsea squad as players struggle to find consistent form.
The Chelsea manager was once again left to complain about squandered chances up front and mistakes at the back after his side were knocked out of the League Cup by Sunderland on Tuesday, despite dominating long periods of the game.
There are fears ahead of Monday night's crucial Premier League clash with Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium that Mourinho is yet to find what he believes is his best side.
Mourinho's Chelsea return has so far been characterised by a policy of chopping and changing.
That has left a number of players unsure of their futures, as they are made to fret about their places on a game-by-game basis.
Chelsea are joint second in the Premier League and through to the knockout stages of the Champions League, but their progress has been interrupted by shock defeats.
Losses against Everton, Newcastle, Stoke, Basel and now Sunderland all came at times when the London club were looking to build momentum.
Four players, goalkeeper Petr Cech, right-back Branislav Ivanovic, captain John Terry and midfielder Ramires, have started every Premier League game under Mourinho. But, otherwise, places have been up for grabs with Mourinho using a total of 25 players in all competitions and making 42 Premier League changes so far this season. Monday night's opponents, Arsenal, have made just 33 changes.
The biggest area of concern for Mourinho has been his strikers, who have scored just five league goals between them.
Fernando Torres has made 12 league appearances, playing 703 minutes, with summer signing Samuel Eto'o making nine appearances and Demba Ba taking part in eight games.
Eto'o scored his first Chelsea goal against Cardiff and was surprised to be dropped down to the substitutes' bench for the following Champions League clash at Schalke.
International strikers expect to play when they have been on the scoresheet, but Ba was replaced by Torres after netting against Steaua Bucharest. The Spaniard scored against Crystal Palace, but Mourinho brought in Eto'o for Tuesday night's trip to Sunderland.
There is an acceptance that Chelsea's strikers need to perform much better in front of goal, but there is also a sense they would benefit from being given a longer run of starts -- particularly after they have scored.
Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton have all reaped the rewards of playing Olivier Giroud, Sergio Aguero, Luis Suarez and Romelu Lukaku in just about every game instead of resting and rotating their goalscorers.
Mourinho has insisted he does not expect to sign a new striker in the January transfer window, although the supposed £32m release clause in Diego Costa's Atletico Madrid contract could provide a temptation if Chelsea raise money from sales.
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney and Manchester City's Edin Dzeko are believed to be more realistic targets in the summer. As things stand, Rooney and Dzeko will both have just one year remaining on their contracts at the end of the season and Chelsea will hope they do not pen new deals in the meantime.
Ultimately, Mourinho would like to sign two new strikers and bring Lukaku back from his Everton loan for the start of next season. Eto'o is understood to be keen on a summer switch to Major League Soccer in America and already has offers. His Chelsea move has not been a success and the former Barcelona player received abuse and criticism on Twitter after posting a picture of himself alongside the scoreline 'Chelsea 1 Sunderland 2'.
Ba's future also lies away from Stamford Bridge and Torres will have two years remaining on his contract in the summer, which may be the point Chelsea finally cut their losses on a £50m signing who has struggled to repeat the form which made him one of Europe's most coveted players at Liverpool.
Behind the lone striker, it would appear Mourinho favours Oscar, Andre Schurrle and Eden Hazard, but that has not stopped the Portuguese swapping his three advanced midfielders.
Juan Mata, who is interesting Paris Saint-Germain, Atletico Madrid and Napoli, has made 12 starts, Willian has come in 11 times and Kevin De Bruyne's appearance against Sunderland was his fifth start of the season.
De Bruyne is hoping to be told he will be allowed to leave Chelsea in January, but is unsure whether Mourinho will sanction a move to Wolfsburg or Bayer Leverkusen.
Mourinho has largely stuck with an attacking line-up, despite deciding to play without a single recognised striker in the goalless draw at Manchester United, but he responded to the Sunderland defeat by suggesting he could soon adopt a more pragmatic approach in a bid to keep clean sheets.
Such a move may not sit well with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who is obsessed by the Barcelona ideal of winning with attacking flair, but the fragility at the back has become an increasing problem for Mourinho.
Terry has been an ever-present in the Premier League as he attempts to earn a new contract, but Mourinho has changed his central defensive pairing between the skipper, Gary Cahill and David Luiz 12 times across all competitions.
They are not like-for-like swaps, either, as playing next to the eccentric Luiz is very different to partnering the more traditional Terry or Cahill.
Like Terry, Ashley Cole is hoping to win a new contract but has recently seen his place at left-back taken by Cesar Azpilicueta who was signed as a right-sided defender.
Cole has made two more starts than Azpilicueta this season and the Spaniard suffered an injury in the extra-time defeat at Sunderland, which could give the England international another chance against his former club Arsenal.
Azpilicueta will be assessed today after Chelsea's first-team squad were given yesterday off to rest and recuperate ahead of a busy and important Christmas schedule, when the team must shake off their inconsistencies.
Chelsea's original Tinkerman, Claudio Ranieri, was the first casualty of Abramovich's ownership. Mourinho is under no such pressure early in his second spell at the club, but the 50-year-old needs to find a winning formula he can rely on. (© Daily Telegraph, London)