Jose Mourinho could be on a collision course with Chelsea's owner, Roman Abramovich, after admitting he may have to dilute the team's current cavalier style.
Mourinho saw the League Cup, the first trophy he won after becoming manager for the first time at Stamford Bridge, slip out of view on another night of frustration at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday. The Chelsea manager could not hide his growing unease with the kind of football that has been demanded by Abramovich after another defeat away from home, the fourth time this season he has lost to English opposition.
Mourinho was supposed to be able to blend the creative talents that had been assembled in recent years when he took over for the second time at the Bridge in the summer.
The 50-year-old has inherited a squad laden with potential creativity in the likes of Eden Hazard, Willian, André Schürrle, Juan Mata, Oscar and Kevin De Bruyne. Mourinho's remit was to fit the lavish talents into a team capable of winning trophies but four defeats on the road in games his side dominated for long periods have raised questions about whether he can deliver Abramovich's vision.
"If I want to win 1-0 I can. It is one of the easiest things in football, it is not difficult," he said. "You organise from the defensive idea. You don't give freedom to your players to express themselves. I don't want to do it but I am giving serious consideration to it."
In his first season, Chelsea won 13 games 1-0 in all competitions. So far they have won just a single match by that scoreline, against Steaua Bucharest last week. Any change in style back to that more pragmatic football now, whether subtle or more blatant from Mourinho, will sit uncomfortably with Abramovich's grand plan of reinventing Chelsea.
Mourinho refused to criticise his players directly for squandering more opportunities on Tuesday, but the strike force of Samuel Eto'o, Demba Ba and Fernando Torres (in the absence of Romelu Lukaku, on loan at Everton) seems to lack the cutting edge to deliver the kind of football demanded by Abramovich. The trio have scored just five Premier League goals between them this season.
Missed chances were again key in the quarter-final extra-time defeat to Sunderland, whose midfielder Seb Larsson said: "We just never gave up. The first half was pretty even. They had a good spell but you just have to stick in there and not get too frustrated."