Chelsea's poorly planned off-season the cause of their troubles

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Chelsea have made the worst start the defence of a Premier League title since Blackburn Rovers in 1994/95 and it is due in large part to problems of their own making.

After leading the league from start to finish last season, they have picked up only four points from the opening four league games and currently find themselves 13th in the table.

The contrast with the start of last season, where they scored 15 goals in their opening four matches, is stark and the roots lie in the differing off-season preparations the team had this year and last.


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Chelsea's off-season following the 3rd place finish in the 2013/14 season was a masterclass in efficiency. Mourinho had identified the two main weaknesses to his team, a top class striker and a creative midfielder.

He quickly filled these two needs, with Diego Costa arriving in mid July after talks had commenced before the season had finished, and Cesc Fabregas transferring in June.

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With Filipe Luis and Loic Remy also added before the start of the season everything was in place to work on the training ground and get off to a fast start. 

They did exactly that by going unbeaten until early December with the team looking well drilled from the off. Jose Mourinho had proven why he has been such a successful manager.

Skip forward 12 months and things are very different. Incredibly, the blueprint for success seems to have been disposed of almost entirely. 

To start with Mourinho gave the squad a long holiday during the summer and opted to only play a short pre-season.

The result of this has been a sluggish looking squad who do not appear to be up to speed for the start of the season. Not only have they dropped eight points from a possible 12 in the league, they were also beaten by Arsenal in the Community Shield and failed to win a single match during the pre-season.

While some would say that the squad had earned an extended break after their success last season, it seems uncharacteristic of Mourinho to dwell on previous success, a decision he has admitted was a mistake. The necessity for such a break due to a tired set of players is also largely down to Mourinho as he used the fewest amount of players last season of all Premier League sides. 

Additionally, in the transfer market they appeared to be happy just to replace players who were leaving without looking to improve areas of weakness. Asmir Begovic came in after Petr Cech left for Arsenal, and Radamel Falcao surprisingly arrived on loan to replace Didier Drogba. Filipe Luis returned to Atletico in a move which had been touted for weeks, with his replacement Baba Rahman not signing until after the season had kicked off. 

It was as if Chelsea had started to believe their own hype after strolling to the league title last year. This would be dangerous at the best of times but especially so when last year's team was not the all conquering world beaters their domestic dominance might suggest. Their limp exit from the Champions League to PSG should have proven that point.

While they were a very good side, they surely benefitted from a lack of serious competition for a variety of reasons. A combination of a Liverpool still reeling from missing out on the title the previous year, a Manchester United in all sorts of transition under Louis van Gaal, an Arsenal lacking in familiar areas, and a Manchester City lacking motivation in the same way Chelsea already look to be this season left them as the best of a weak bunch. 

At times last season Eden Hazard was expected to carry the entire creative burden in the run in when Costa was absent through injury and Fabregas' form had faded. They were by no means the finished article. To rest on their laurels was asking for trouble. 

Even the Falcao loan deal felt complacent when his struggles at Old Trafford last year show he is not the superstar he once was. Much was made of the fact that he shares an agent with Mourinho in Jorge Mendes. It felt almost as if the manager felt he could do his agent a favour and make United look stupid if Falcao was a success. Bearing in mind Costa's propensity to suffer hamstring injuries and the way Chelsea have lacked bite in his absence this seems an incredible risk to take.

Since then Pedro has been signed from Barcelona who may well turn out to be an excellent signing. However this only happened after they had been to the Etihad and been beaten 3-0 when it suddenly began to dawn that perhaps this team was not ready for the season ahead.

It did not feel like part of a considered long term plan. The transfer had parallels with the signing of Juan Mata in 2011. Then, a spark was needed after an unconvincing start to the season and led to a sudden transfer for a player long linked with a move to Arsenal. Now, the same with a player expected to move to Manchester United.

The young Brazilian Kenedy may also prove to be a good addition but again he was not brought in until after the start of the season. 

The one target that was intended to strengthen the squad was John Stones of Everton, but even so he was not formally bid for until there was less than three weeks to the start of the season. The lateness of this transfer 'saga' is very likely to have contributed to the ultimate failure to secure Stones.

Roberto Martinez and Everton were adamant that they would not let Stones leave, despite him putting in a transfer request. Their stance was understandable as it took until virtually the transfer deadline for Chelsea to offer an adequate fee, by which time it was too late for them to use it properly to find a replacement. 

Manchester City on the other hand began their pursuit of Raheem Sterling much earlier and were able to sign him quickly. This was because, despite their reluctance to see him leave, Liverpool were able to drive up the price in order to save face and then utilise those funds to sign Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino.

The Sterling transfer was done in the style of Chelsea's transfer business of the previous summer, while Chelsea themselves were bungling their own business this year. 

When it became clear that Stones would not be arriving Chelsea were forced to scramble and find alternative defensive replacements. In the end they came in the comparatively underwhelming forms of Papy Djilobodji from Nantes and Michael Hector from Reading. The failure on Stones and the subsequent alternatives all give an impression of too little too late. 

There have been reports of a record deal for Paul Pogba being rejected by the player, as well as a failed attempt to hijack Manchester United's move for Anthony Martial by matching their world record fee for a teenager. If these are true then they only add to the feeling of desperation and that Chelsea have had a poorly planned and poorly executed transfer window. 

Last season Chelsea benefitted hugely from their clear offseason plan being efficiently implemented. It allowed them to start the season strongly and leave their rivals chasing from start to finish.

It therefore makes very little sense for them to not follow their own example a year later, and their poor start can be attributed heavily to this mistake. The season is a long way from over and there is plenty of time for the start to be overcome but it is a problem that could have been avoided. 

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Jose Mourinho
Premier League

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