Has it turned personal between Jose Mourinho and John Terry at Chelsea?

It is difficult to avoid the feeling that the pair's relationship has cooled

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The Independent Football

Just before Jose Mourinho delivered his curiously upbeat assessment of Chelsea’s performance in the 2-1 defeat at Porto late on Tuesday night, John Terry was out for a solo warm-down on the pitch. The 2,500 Chelsea fans, kept behind in the top tier of the Estadio Dragao, sang “we want our captain back”. Terry waved and applauded in return.

The demotion of Terry to a bit-part player has been one of the strangest parts of what is becoming a difficult season for Chelsea. Gary Cahill and Kurt Zouma have started together in their last four matches at Premier League and Champions League level. Terry’s one recent outing was against Walsall in the Capital One Cup last week in a Chelsea team featuring Kenedy, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Baba Rahman.

When asked before the game about Terry’s occasional role, and how he dropped Iker Casillas when Real Madrid coach in 2013, Mourinho said the reasons were purely sporting. “Every time a big player is not playing you have to try to find more than just a football reason for it,” the Chelsea manager said. “Many, many times it is just a football reason for it.”

But it is difficult to avoid the feeling that the relationship between Terry and Mourinho has cooled. The footballing case for his continued exclusion is not obvious. Mourinho praised his side’s “good performance”, albeit with “two ridiculous mistakes”, on Tuesday night, but they could easily have conceded three or four goals. 

Chelsea have conceded goals from corners in their last two matches, in the 2-2 draw at Newcastle on Saturday and against Porto. That is why they need Terry back in the side.

Jason Cundy, the former Chelsea defender and close friend of Terry, suggested there was a personal or political element to recent events. “If you’re going to drop him, that’s fine, it happens in football, but I think Mourinho is sending out a message,” he said on TalkSport. “John Terry hasn’t played badly this season and I think he’s been really unfairly treated.  I don’t think he’s played badly enough for him to be on  the bench.”

Branislav Ivanovic, in contrast, is certainly playing badly enough to be on the bench and yet he continues to feature. He managed to survive Mourinho’s cull on Tuesday, appearing again at right-back, where he was given yet another very uncomfortable outing, this time by Yacine Brahimi. Ivanovic is in the last year of his Chelsea contract, and while he has been offered one extra year, his drop in form during the uncertainty has been noted. He is unlikely to still be at Stamford Bridge next season.

There would be a strong case for dropping Ivanovic and Zouma against Southampton on Saturday and bringing back Terry and Rahman, thereby allowing Cesar Azpilicueta to move across to right-back. But Terry struggled against the pace of Southampton striker Sadio Mané last season, and given Mourinho’s desire to defend slightly higher up the pitch this season, he could well stay on the bench, despite what the fans think.

Diego Costa was one of the few Chelsea players to speak publicly after Tuesday’s game, admitting that Chelsea have “lost some confidence” after their recent poor run of results. “‘We are all united,” Costa said. “It’s not a good moment now.  We must do more. We have a good squad with a great deal of quality. We have maybe lost some confidence in three or four games.” There was also a tacit admission from Costa that Mourinho was right about the players’ attitude, which  he criticised so bluntly on Monday.

“The manager knows the quality of his team,” Costa said. “He knows what we can do.  It is the responsibility of all of us.  We have to improve our character and confidence.”

The Football Association last night released its written reasons for Costa’s retrospective three-game ban for violent conduct following the incident with Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny last month. Chelsea are no longer contesting the matter, and Costa will see out the remainder of his ban.