Terry return timely just as Chelsea's standards are slipping

Click to follow
The Independent Online

He may have been on the pitch for just five minutes (including injury time), he may have only touched the ball twice (including slicing a clearance to the area's edge), but the return of John Terry provoked a bold statement from Jose Mourinho. "We are back to our defensive security," the Chelsea manager declared. His relief was palpable.

Time will soon tell. That security was lacking yesterday, as it has been throughout Terry's absence, but coupled with the return of goalkeeper Petr Cech - whom Mourinho ran onto the pitch to congratulate at the final whistle following a couple of assured interventions - there are grounds for confidence for the Premiership champions.

Terry has been missing since 13 December - somewhat longer than the "out for 10 days" that Chelsea predicted when he underwent back surgery, and although the sequestrated lumbar intervertebral disc has not quite reached the national lexicon as the metatarsal has, it has sure exercised Mourinho.

After a controlled first half against Charlton, he was exercised again. Chelsea fell away badly in the second period as they were hustled and harried by opponents who have received a huge injection of belief from their manager, Alan Pardew. Terry, too, was agitated. He warmed up in just T-shirt and shorts, showing his impatience to rejoin the action, and watched as, twice, Amady Faye cut through the defence.

In Wayne Bridge, who was one of Chelsea's better performers yesterday, Mourinho has cover for the injured Ashley Cole, but there is no replacement "as a man", according to the manager, for Terry. "In the last five minutes, to have John Terry there gave us more confidence," said Mourinho. "In the future, with Petr [Cech] and JT, opponents will have to forget what they have been doing in the last few months." To Mourinho's mind that has been playing "direct", attacking the uncertainty injuries and suspensions have bred in his team.

The statistics don't lie. In eight Premiership games without Terry, Chelsea conceded 10 goals; in the previous eight with him the figure was four. Such concessions, for such a previously parsimonious outfit, are cause for alarm. Alarm has been ringing around Chelsea for some time. One defeat in 19 games may make that claim appear foolish but the lack of "flair" (Mourinho's own word) and dynamism in the team has been evident. They are also 12 points adrift of the total they garnered by this time last season. The off-field problems and power struggles have been even greater. It is, whatever the denials, and there were more yesterday, a crisis.

Terry has even found himself dragged into it. His words that he would support Mourinho, under pressure from Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea owner who was once again absent, was construed as a threat. Then Mourinho decided to drag his captain further into the storm by stating, without Terry's knowledge, that the defender had sought assurances the Portuguese would stay before signing a new contract. The deal will be agreed no matter what happens to Mourinho.

Patchy results have added petrol to the fire. Mourinho has fanned the flames and there was even a warning from Pardew in his programme notes. "Make no mistake," Pardew wrote, "this is a great team managed by a great manager in Jose Mourinho. Chelsea would indeed be wise to make sure Jose stays as long as he wants to." That sojourn, despite Mourinho having a contract until 2010, is unlikely to stretch beyond this season.

But that is for the summer. For now Chelsea are still attacking on four fronts. Mourinho said his team had "five cup finals" in February - two League matches, a League Cup Final, an FA Cup tie and European Cup meeting with Porto. The challenge is to win them all. With Terry returning it is more achievable.

Comments