Jose Mourinho is not a man who is easily lost for words so, when the Chelsea manager declared not once, but twice, in the aftermath of Saturday’s unexpected 3-2 defeat at Stoke City that he did not know how to get any more out of his centre-forwards, it was not hard to read between the lines.
Chelsea’s defence may have just leaked three goals in successive league games for the first time since 1999, and this against two of the division’s least prolific teams, Sunderland and Stoke, but it was evident after this “shit” defeat – his word – that Mourinho’s chief frustration lay with their problems at the other end of the pitch.
This was another barren afternoon for Chelsea’s strikers who have not scored a single away goal in the Premier League in 2013. Between them, Fernando Torres, Demba Ba and Samuel Eto’o have four league goals this term and Mourinho believes the lack of a top-class goalscorer is damaging their title prospects.
“We try the best we can, the strikers, they try the best they can, I don’t know what to do,” Mourinho said, as he proceeded to list rather pointedly the goal threat of Chelsea’s title rivals. Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo, Edin Dzeko, Wayne Rooney, Olivier Giroud, Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez were all namechecked before he continued: “If you ask me would I like my strikers to score eight, 10, 12 goals? Yes. And [with] eight, 10 goals we would be top of the league.” He might have added Romelu Lukaku to that list but then the thinking behind letting the Belgian depart on loan to Everton remains one of this season’s great mysteries.
What is rather clearer is that when Mourinho suggests Chelsea’s “is not a perfect squad”, it is his striking options he has in mind. He had the look of a man whose patience had run dry and as he spoke about the impossibility of improving older players, it seemed no coincidence that Eto’o is 32, Torres 29 and Ba 28. “One thing is to improve a player who is 20, which you can. If you tell me can you improve [Eden] Hazard? Yes I can. Can I improve a player who is 30? How?”
As Chelsea dominated Stoke in the first period, there was plenty of incisive attacking play from their creative trio of Juan Mata, André Schürrle and Hazard, but ahead of them Torres was a blunt instrument. Indeed, between him and the second-half substitutes Ba and Eto’o, the only noteworthy goal attempt was an Eto’o shot which trickled wide late on.
The consequence of it all was a Stoke rally which thanks to Oussama Assaidi’s brilliant winning goal brought their first league win over Chelsea since 1975, and left the Londoners third in the table. It also left Mourinho on the defensive as he noted that Chelsea had finished “25 points and 14 points behind the leader” in each of the past two campaigns. “Who told you that we are the first contenders to win the league? I don’t think we are. I think we are one of the six teams that are potential contenders.”
On days like Saturday, it is hard to disagree. The club’s wish for a more adventurous approach than in Mourinho’s first spell means they are not as strong defensively – Peter Crouch’s first-half equaliser highlighted the vulnerability from set pieces once more – and then there is the absence of a credible No 9. This begs the question whether Mourinho will be able to bring in a goalscorer in January. “I’m not asking for players,” he said, echoing the noises coming out of Stamford Bridge in the past week. “Probably at the end of the season, because it is more normal, but I am not pushing for players now.” Time to read between the lines once more.