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After Saturday’s draw at Newcastle, the fifth occasion this season Chelsea have dropped points to leave them 15th and already trailing leader’s Manchester United by eight points, manager Jose Mourinho questioned the “desire and commitment” of his players ahead of the midweek Champions League game with Porto.
Mourinho had seen enough from his team’s display up on Tyneside to leave Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao at home, with Diego Costa again available amidst a domestic ban, and Eden Hazard and Nemanja Matic on the bench for the visit to the Dragao.
Lack of “serial champions”
With Mourinho doubting the attitude of some individuals and pointing out the lack of “serial champions” in his squad, the team selection on his return to his former club was a message that his patience is wearing thin with some.
Mourinho said that there was only three “serial champions” in his team, John Terry, John Obi Mikel and Branislav Ivanovic, but in Portugal Terry would be on the bench, Mikel lasted just an hour and now the faith in Ivanovic must surely be close to breaking point.
Despite a worrying malaise that started with a lacklustre performance against Swansea City on the opening weekend of the season in which he was given the run-around by Jefferson Montero, Ivanovic has missed just one game, against Maccabi Tel-Aviv in the Champions League, but the loyalty in the Serb is becoming increasingly blind.
The Portuguese would be left bemoaning “ridiculous mistakes” for the 2-1 defeat in Porto, which Mourinho claimed undermined a good performance, focussing on the Maicon’s winner which came from a corner.
The other mistake, he said, came from when Danilo hit the post from another set-piece but apart from that it appeared to Mourinho that his team had the game “under control”.
Ivanovic immune from criticism
Why he didn’t muse on Porto’s first goal is curious, with Ivanovic beaten far too easily by Yacine Brahimi as the Algerian dashed into the box on the left and forced a save from Asmir Begovic that fell kindly to Andre to volley home. That was just one of Brahimi’s 10 completed dribbles as he gave the right-back a torrid evening.
Statistics website Squawka breakdown Ivanovic’s game to 0 aerial duels won or 0 completed crosses and, most damningly for the defender, just 1 successful tackle from a total of 10 attempted.
The Serb was not helped by Pedro’s failure to help him out defensively, compared to Willian’s effort on the opposite flank, but it was indication of Chelsea’s naivety on the night that Ivanovic, alarmingly short of form, was left exposed by a winger as quick and dangerous as Brahimi.
This is nothing new of course, with Montero, Raheem Sterling of Manchester City and Bakary Sako and Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace enjoying their meetings with Ivanovic earlier in the season.
After his team’s 1-2 win at Stamford Bridge, Palace manager Alan Pardew said that he had targeted the right back for the lack of protection he was given, introducing Yannick Bolasie in the second half to terrorise the Serb even more.
Ivanovic has been part of a defence that has collectively struggled this season but while Mourinho has acted in other areas by phasing out captain John Terry and bringing in Kurt Zouma, the right-back has been given every minute of every game besides the meeting with Maccabi.
That omission came after Ivanovic’s listless performance against Everton in which he let Brendan Galloway run free down the left and Steven Naismith too much room to fire the pivotal second goal. Against Arsenal the following week he was back in and the problems quickly forgotten.
Out went Matic and Hazard against Porto but the persistence in Ivanovic, currently mired in steep decline, wears on. Under a manager so devoted to detail as Mourinho, whom is fixated on keeping opposition threats to his team down to a minimal, the loyalty to his right-back appears to be particularly baffling.
Potential solution to the right-back conundrum
Or even why, with Ramires and Willian both tried out on the right along with Pedro, the £21 million acquisition from Barcelona, he hasn’t demanded greater protection from whoever starts ahead of Ivanovic on the right flank. It is a problem that is so against Mourinho’s nature that the longer it goes on the further it bewilders.
A potential solution came in the form of Abdul Baba Rahman, the £21 million signing from FC Augsburg, who could have allowed Cesare Azpilicueta to move over to his natural home at right-back, but the Ghanaian left-back has played only twice so far for his new club, against Walsall in the League Cup and Maccabi Tel-Aviv.
Why Rahman, Mourinho explains, has not been seen in the Premier League is because he is “not ready”.
Rahman watched the defeat to Porto from the bench and he would have wondered, as Ivanovic floundered throughout, how he has not yet been given a consistent chance to prove himself at full-back.
He can be no worse than how Ivanovic is playing at the moment and with Mourinho saying the Champions League is “different football”, he would be entitled to wonder why he wasn’t given a chance in the Dragao.
Can Mourinho cease his confidence in the Serb?
He certainly wouldn’t be the only one questioning the Chelsea manager’s logic at the moment, but Ivanovic’s struggles must surely see his chance arrive soon?
With Mourinho’s confidence in Ivanovic seemingly unbreakable, maybe even ignorant, who knows?
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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