For Chelsea and Jose Mourinho, Sunday marked a miserable end to a miserable week.
A chastening 3-0 defeat to Manchester City at least brought the focus back onto footballing matters, after the quite ridiculous melodrama involving the Portuguese manager and the club's doctors and physios, but raised questions over the integrity of their title-defending credentials.
Mourinho bizarrely labelled the loss as a ‘fake result’, but there was no question that City, who were frankly better all across the pitch, thoroughly deserved their win.
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This was a Chelsea side that looked worryingly off the pace, and were a distant second best to a hungry and determined City side. What the game served to highlight is the lack of investment in the Chelsea squad during the summer - it is a fundamental truth that in the cut throat world of the Premier League, to stand still is to go backwards.
Chelsea’s triumph last season became a procession from around February onwards, due in no small part to a lack of credible challengers. Yet there were signs that the team was beginning to creak as the season drew to a close.
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A lack of options up front when Diego Costa’s hamstrings played up, and an increasing reliance on Eden Hazard showed that while this was a worthy title-winning side, there was certainly room for improvement. It seemed that if Chelsea were to defend their Premier League crown then a few astute signings were needed.
Instead, Chelsea’s dealings in the transfer window have been underwhelming to say the least. Up front, Didier Drogba has been replaced by Radamel Falcao, a huge gamble for Mourinho. Elsewhere, Asmir Begović has replaced Petr Čech after his move across London, and Baba Rahman has been signed for Filipe Luís after he returned to Spain.
They are all like-for-like signings, but hardly the type to get the pulse racing. Indeed, it would not be going too far to say that the Chelsea squad is weaker than it was last season, due largely to the loss of the sizeable experience and ability of Čech.
One of the key components of building a winning team is buying from a position of strength. Every year fresh faces are required to provide competition for places. This stops things from becoming stale and allowing complacency to creep in.
Mourinho himself has addressed the danger of failing to strengthen, telling reporters, as per the Daily Mail, that: "If you stand still you get worse. It's right. It's dangerous. But the same people can move forward. You don't need to buy ten players to be a better team.”
His confidence in his title-winning side is admirable, but surely he is too experienced a manager to be completely comfortable with the situation. There have been whispers around Stamford Bridge that Mourinho is not altogether happy with the summer’s work and the lack of acquisitions. Perhaps in his quieter moments he may feel a pang of nostalgia for the days when Abramovich would simply hand him a blank cheque to sign whoever he needed.
This time last season Chelsea were producing some scintillating football as they laid down a marker as the team to beat. A year on, they look vulnerable. They were beaten by a City side who look stronger, quicker and hungrier than them.
The defence that looked so impregnable last season is beginning to creak slightly. John Terry found himself substituted for the first time ever by the Portuguese. It is classic Mourinho to ruthlessly haul players off at half-time to improve the balance of the team, but never has the unfortunate victim been the Chelsea captain, ever-present last season.
At right back, Chelsea’s Mr. Reliable, Branslav Ivanovic, seems to still be in holiday mode. After being given the run around against Swansea by Jefferson Montero, he was again exposed by Raheem Sterling’s pace and imagination.
In midfield, it was a surprise to see Cesc Fabregas start alongside Nemanja Matić in a deep lying role. Last season Mourinho would more often than not opt to play a more defensive minded player, such as John Obi Mikel or even Kurt Zouma, in front of the defence in order to limit the amount of space available in the middle of the park.
He chose not to do so at the Etihad and Chelsea were left to rue the consequences. City, led by the creative and penetrating David Silva, were able to repeatedly exploit the space between the lines afforded them as Fabregas failed to offer adequate protection to the Chelsea back four.
Going forward, Eden Hazard had an off day and, without him to provide the spark of inspiration, Chelsea struggled. Up front, Diego Costa looked like a man performing a one-man show. His aggression, often his greatest strength, sometimes seems to overwhelm him to the depreciation of his other talents.
In light of this defeat, the pursuit of John Stones may well be stepped up, while the need for midfield reinforcements is just as clear. Mourinho does not seem to trust Mikel, and the burden placed on Hazard’s shoulders seems to be weighing ever heavier. The sight of David Silva dictating play only laid bare Chelsea’s lack of a genuine number 10 to control the play.
The sight of last year’s champions being so ruthlessly dominated by a title rival will surely lead to some uncomfortable squirming in the Chelsea board room. With two weeks left in transfer window, do not be surprised if Chelsea open the cheque book again. On the evidence of this weekend, they desperately need to.
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