Chelsea 1 Crystal Palace 2: Jose Mourinho is lost for answers to Chelsea's issues

Jose Mourinho lost for words following defeat to Crystal Palace

Click to follow
The Independent Football

It said much that Jose Mourinho seemed more disturbed by the question – and everything it implies – than the result. It said even more that he was at a loss for an explanation.

After the defending champions had lost their second game of the season in getting beaten 2-1 by Crystal Palace, and just the second league game at Stamford Bridge in the Portuguese’s entire career, he was asked whether one of the first principles of his management has been eroded. Is it possible that Chelsea have lost the drive to retain the title? Have they succumbed to the same problem as Manchester City last season, and this from the master of motivation?

“If that is the question, it is very sad,” Mourinho said, before so notably reiterating the words. “If that is the point, it’s very, very sad. If this is real, it is very sad.”

 

It seems very real. There is no surer sign of a side losing that edge than losing all the little battles, and that has been precisely the case with Chelsea this season, leading to bigger problems in virtually every area of the pitch.

The defence is in ruins, with only Sunderland currently having a worse record. As a simple benchmark of how far they have fallen from the Mourinho ideal, Chelsea have already conceded 60 per cent of the 15 goals they did in the whole 2004-05 campaign, with those nine strikes coming in just four games.

Alan Pardew admitted he targeted Branislav Ivanovic’s side of the pitch, but also raised another problem with Chelsea. “We doubled up on him a little bit in the first half,” the Palace manager said. “I didn’t think he got much protection.”

That was the case with Chelsea’s whole defence. Nemanja Matic has this season struggled to get his body across to block shots, and is still expected to be the single player patrolling the area in front of the entire back line, especially since Cesc Fabregas barely contributes defensively. Their previously imperious midfield axis looks as broken as the defence, and that has meant the forward line does not have the service to function either.

That in turn only exposes Mourinho’s career-long problem with creativity. Those on Chelsea’s training ground say his attacking ideas amount to getting the ball to Eden Hazard and trusting the intelligence of his forwards to play from there but, if that is not happening, there is not much else.

In such situations, the failsafe football reaction is to just go back to trying to get the basics right and build again from there, but this is the point. All of the usual Mourinho fundamentals and guarantees are absent, right down to defensive assurance and that inherent motivational edge. Worse, when asked why some key players were “not at an acceptable level”, he made an even more surprising admission.

“I don’t know,” Mourinho bluntly said. “I don’t have an answer for everything.”

That is conspicuous for someone who usually has a response for everything. Something did not feel right about an agitated pre-season in which the Portuguese had a barb for almost everyone and, while that sense of uncertainty has seemed to radiate through the side since then, pre-season itself may be responsible for a few problems.

Mourinho has previously said adjustments to training will mean Chelsea are not at their best until September, and that may be responsible for some players’ sluggishness. It would still be reasonable to expect more improvement by now, though, so that points to something else.

It is difficult not to think the lack of reinforcements has conditioned a certain complacency, especially since there is so little competition for main places. There are murmurs about tension between Mourinho and the club over what has been a more conservative transfer policy, and the interest in Paul Pogba indicates the Portuguese realises he has an issue in midfield as much as central defence.

It is as if they could badly do with someone between Matic and Fabregas, both in terms of position and style of play; someone with physical power in defence and attack. The team have also been trying a higher defensive line in order to vary the style of play in the long-term, but very few have so far adjusted. Overall, the side just isn’t in synch.

For the moment, Mourinho really only has one response: “I have to work, react, analyse and if I feel the players are not in conditions to react and give more, I have to make changes,” he said. “I have never had a problem with that.”

But that just throws up another problem. “[This result] comes at a bad moment,” he said. “They go to their national teams for two weeks and they are back two days before the next game. That is not good for trying to push for more.”

That game? John Stones’ Everton, away. Mourinho needs a very big push, and a lift.

Comments