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After a frankly horrid August, talk of a crisis at Chelsea is beginning to seem like more than sheer hyperbole. The hallmarks of the almost equally poor start to the 2007-08 which led to the departure of Jose Mourinho that September are there, and now Chelsea face a struggle to keep up with their title rivals.
However, with the right approach, the club can find a way to redeem themselves, what I believe Mourinho could do with is some of his old school mercilessness.
It is no secret that Jose Mourinho has his favourites, yet this cannot be allowed to stick forever. In his first spell, he built the team around workhorse leaders such as Frank Lampard, Ricardo Carvalho, John Terry, Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Michael Ballack and Claude Makelele. However, this Chelsea team simply doesn’t have such characters in such abundance: for me, only Diego Costa and of course John Terry measure up to the leaders he had in his first spell with the Blues.
The likes of Oscar, Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas are all fantastic players who are able to win leagues against weaker competition as they did last year, but in high importance, intense games such as PSG at home last season or the rejuvenated Manchester City away this season, they have shown signs of not having the mental toughness for it.
Of course tactics and technical ability matter hugely, but Chelsea need mental toughness in this current period of challenge to the Premier League throne, yet this mental toughness hasn’t been shown for a long time.
Much has been made of the dramatic decline Branislav Ivanovic has shown this season, compared to last season where he performed relatively well. In terms of confidence, desire, fitness and positioning, he has looked a shell of the player he was last season, and has been at fault for arguably six out of the nine goals Chelsea have conceded this season, yet the removal of him from the team may not go far enough.
New signing Baba Rahman has been suggested to play at left back as Cesar Azpilicueta supposedly takes Ivanovic’s right back place, yet this itself may bring its own problems. Rahman has played just one season in a top European league, and even this was for mid table German side Augsburg.
Whether he can make the step up remains to be seen, and if he does it may take time. It ended up having the feel of a panic buy as Rahman wasn’t match fit upon arrival and of course will not have a pre season to get used to his new team.
In the centre of defence, problems have arisen as well. John Terry and Gary Cahill looked shaky against Swansea and so much so against Manchester City that Terry was subbed off by Mourinho at half time for the first time in his career. Kurt Zouma hasn’t looked much better either, as he was the only ever present centre back in the 3-2 win over West Brom following John Terry’s sending off, and he and Cahill made a few mistakes against Crystal Palace.
John Terry has struggled for pace and understanding with Thibaut Courtois, while Zouma and Cahill have both looked all at sea when it comes to dealing with balls into the box and tricky wingers.
Nowadays, it seems a playmaker and a striker who is good in the air is all that is needed to bamboozle Chelsea, as illustrated by the works of Jefferson Montero, Bafetimbi Gomis, David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Callum McManaman and Yannick Bolasie in recent weeks. John Stones may have sorted this mess, but without him, the blues are relying on off form Ivanovic, Cahill and Terry, plus the inexperienced Zouma and Rahman to get them out of this mess.
Lack of confidence within the midfield
Lack of confidence certainly isn’t confined to the defence either, as Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas have looked barely even a shell of what they were last year. From August to November 2014, Chelsea’s midfield five of Matic, Fabregas, Oscar, Hazard and Willian looked almost unstoppable for the defences in the Premier League. They were clever in their passing, united in their tactics as they all pressed well, and most importantly, looking like they were going to score every time they went forward.
Now however, Fabregas in particular looks as if he is lacking confidence and drive, while Matic has been less dynamic and able to help out the ailing defence.
What Chelsea have essentially struggled with in midfield is energy and movement: Shelvey and Cork provided this for Swansea in the 2-2 draw, Toure and Fernandinho did for Manchester City and so did Cabaye and MacArthur for Crystal Palace. Ramires may provide this energy, and Loftus-Cheek could be more dynamic than the apparently shot for confidence Matic, but Loftus-Cheek is highly inexperienced, Ramires has failed to impress for a while, and Mourinho does like stability, so a change of personnel looks unlikely as well as risky.
Forwards far from impressive
Further up the pitch, things have been far from impressive as well, yet it cannot be said this is the largest area of concern for Chelsea fans or Mourinho-they have looked somewhat competent. Competency does not win titles however, and with star attacker Eden Hazard looking uninspired or even lazy at times as shown in his lack of energy in trying to prevent Manchester City’s first goal at the Etihad in August.
Willian has provided plenty of energy as always, yet again not the goals or assists of a truly top player, while Oscar only featured against Swansea, against whom he scored, due to an injury he picked up in that game. Pedro was magnificent against West Brom, less so against Crystal Palace, but he has provided energy, width, goals and assists.
Up front the strikers are good, Remy and Falcao able to replace Costa if needs be. Falcao’s goal against Crystal Palace may just be the boost he needs, but what the strikers do need is far more support from Hazard, Willian and even Fabregas.
Undoubtedly, this has been a Chelsea side so far unrecognisable from the one that easily won the league last season, and one without significant improvements from that team. However, things can be turned around: the quality is there and injuries have not hampered the squad.
What Chelsea and Mourinho need is a degree of toughness in defence, movement in midfield both in terms of attack and defence, as well as unity between strikers and supporting trio. If Rahman, Kenedy and Loftus-Cheek have to come in Mourinho need not be afraid or too loyal to the likes of Fabregas, Ivanovic and Matic-they too much earn and justify their place.
Written by Joshua Sodergren
Follow Joshua on Twitter @JoshSalad365
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