Why Jose Mourinho has already got Stamford Bridge blues
Beaten by Basel on Wednesday, Chelsea face Fulham this weekend following two straight defeats and having won twice all season. So, what is the problem?
1. A bad night for Mourinho at Stamford Bridge
John Obi Mikel was one of the few players to speak candidly about Chelsea's shortcomings on Wednesday night saying that "individually we didn't turn up". He added: "I think with the kind of players we have, with the calibre of players we have, I don't think we should be afraid of anyone. But if we play the way we did [against Basel] we have a chance of losing to anyone."
Certainly it was a bad evening for Mourinho. Marco van Ginkel looked out of his depth. Willian, who had not previously played since 2 August, was off the pace and out of position on the left side. Basel's winner was conceded from a set-piece. Strangely, Frank Lampard, one of the better performers, was substituted on 76 minutes, in spite of his record for late goals.
In the meantime, Juan Mata – Chelsea's player of the year for the last two seasons – remains on the outside, as does Kevin de Bruyne, who started the season brightly but has not figured since the draw with Manchester United on 26 August.
It is understood that Roman Abramovich's visit to the dressing room after Wednesday's defeat was not in reaction to the result and was something he intended to do regardless. There is no sense that anyone is panicking just yet, especially given all the summer pledges to work for the long term.
2. What exactly is going on with Juan Mata?
Last out the changing rooms at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, Mata would not entertain speaking to the press about his season so far which has been one frustration after the other. It can be traced back to him playing for Spain in the Confederations Cup in June, which, indirectly, ended with him being left out his country's squad for the last international break.
A late returnee to pre-season, he joined up with Chelsea in America after their Asia tour. An injury there put him even further back. Mourinho is understood to have left him out the team for the trip to Old Trafford and the Super Cup final against Bayern Munich because he favoured a more physical approach. Mata has started just two games all season, featured in only three and is yet to play 90 minutes.
His lack of game time meant he was left out of Vicente del Bosque's ultra-competitive Spain squad for the friendly against Chile and trained with the Under-21s at Cobham. A huge favourite with the supporters, the irony is that Rafa Benitez played Mata last season regardless of whether the player was fully fit.
At Chelsea the feeling is that Mourinho simply has not built up that level of trust in Mata. He may yet do so but, as it is, Mata is struggling for momentum. Mourinho brought him on against Basel having substituted him before the hour against Everton. Will he pick Mata against Fulham? It's a big call, and if he does not, then it will say much about where the midfielder currently stands under this manager.
3. Have Chelsea got enough goals in them?
Letting Daniel Sturridge leave the club in January was a difficult decision which may give those at Chelsea who accepted it at the time some cause for regret. Leaving aside the benefit of hindsight, Sturridge's time at the club felt like it had run its course and the move was beneficial for both. The striker needed a new start and Chelsea needed to freshen up their forward line with Demba Ba.
Were Sturridge still at Chelsea, in his current form, picking a striker would be easy – even if he is not quite the archetypal centre-forward who Mourinho has favoured in the past. With due credit to Brendan Rodgers, however, it is his faith in Sturridge that has undoubtedly contributed in a major way to his recent form.
Last season, Chelsea scored 75 league goals, more than any club other than the champions, Manchester United. Yet their top goalscorer in the league was Lampard with 15, followed by Mata (12), Eden Hazard (9) and Fernando Torres (8). The goals were spread around the squad, and although they finished third in the table, the absence of a prolific striker was felt. This season they have managed just seven goals in six games in all competitions.
Both Torres and Ba, who have one goal between them this season, have passed the point where they can be regarded as the solution. That leaves Samuel Eto'o for whom it is early days. Chelsea hung a great deal on signing Wayne Rooney this summer and they probably should have switched their attentions elsewhere earlier. But Mourinho was very keen on the player.
4. Teething problems for the new regime?
Mourinho has established a narrative in his introductory press conference that this Chelsea team were "kids" who required nurturing rather than "ready to win" like, he said, Manchester City's squad.
The feeling at Chelsea is that Mourinho is still in that difficult early period with his squad. He has very clear ideas of how he wants to play and the kind of rotation of players that will be successful. The players themselves are adapting but that has taken time. There will have to be give on both sides if they are to be successful.
It is not dissimilar to Benitez's early weeks in charge last season. Having started with two draws he left Oscar out of the starting XI for the next three games and picked him in alternate games over Christmas and the new year. Eventually Benitez came to trust Oscar and he played as much as any other in the run-in, but it took time for him to learn about his players.
Mourinho bemoaned his team's lack of "maturity" on Wednesday night. But he was definitive in June about how he would effect change. "It [the Chelsea job] is not about saying, 'Mr Abramovich and members of the board, I need some money with a lot of zeros at the end, I need to change half the team'." He always accepted that this would be a challenge that he had to solve, in large part, by developing his players. The last two results have confirmed that they are a long way from complete.
Home discomforts: Mourinho's defeats
Feb 2002 Porto 2-3 Beira-Mar (League)
Mar 2003 Porto 0-1 Panathinaikos (Uefa)
Oct 2003 Porto 1-3 R Madrid (Champ L)
Feb 2006 Chelsea 1-2 Barcelona (CL)
Oct 2006 Chelsea 1-1 Charlton (aet, lost 5-4 on penalties; League Cup)
Nov 2008 Inter 0-1 Panathinaikos (CL)
April 2011 R Madrid 0-1 S Gijon (L)
Apr 2011 R Madrid 2-3 R Zaragoza (L)
Dec 2011 R Madrid 1-3 Barcelona (L)
Jan 2012 R Madrid 1-2 Barcelona (CDR)
May 2012 R Madrid 1-2 Atletico Madrid (L)
Sep 2013 Chelsea 1-2 Basel (CL)
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