With the Premier League rapidly nearing its halfway point, last season’s champions are drowning fast. In a performance short of ideas, creativity and cohesive effort Chelsea firmly dispelled the notion that they had turned the corner and left their manager an early Champions League exit away from serious danger.
In sticking with Jose Mourinho up to this point, owner Roman Abramovich has not only revealed the high regard in which he holds his manager, but also set a precedent for stability even at the biggest clubs.
As the man to deliver three of Chelsea’s four Premier League titles Mourinho has deserved to stay up till now but a point per game run cannot be accepted henceforth.
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Going forward Abramovich ultimately has two options. Either he can continue to back his man and give him the funds to expand on a shrinking squad, or he cuts his losses and looks elsewhere; an increasingly appealing prospect considering the availability of both former double winner Carlo Ancelotti and Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola when his contract expires next summer.
Giving Mourinho the January window would be a significant decision. Whereas, the former Real Madrid manager reaffirmed his reputation as a master of the transfer market during his first two seasons back at Stamford Bridge, this title is now rapidly declining. Key summer target John Stones remains at Everton whilst former Chelsea players Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne have been two of the standout players of this season.
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Though his performances have gone slightly under the radar due to Jamie Vardy’s exploits, Lukaku has been in fine form this season: he has ten league goals already this season and recently became just the fifth player to score 50 Premier League goals before turning 23.
De Bruyne meanwhile has to date, largely justified his £54.9 million price tag, scoring nine goals in all competitions and dovetailing well with Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero. With chief creator David Silva now back from injury and at only 24-years-old, De Bruyne looks set to be a key figure in Manchester City’s future success.
Though it was Abramovich’s decision to let Petr Cech decide his next destination after more than a decade of distinguished service at Stamford Bridge, allowing him to leave as well and to a title rival looks more foolish by the week.
The Blues are in desperate need of reinforcements across the pitch. John Terry looks unlikely to recapture his form of last season and it is no surprise that Gary Cahill’s drop in performance has coincided with his captain's. Alongside them, Branislav Ivanovic has gone from one of the most complete full-backs in the league to a player afraid to accept possession as Chelsea chased first a winner, and then an equaliser against Bournemouth on Saturday.
Both Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa were crucial in Chelsea winning last season’s title, however both have also been out of form for almost a year since the Blues’ 5-0 thumping of Swansea City on January 17.
The Chelsea squad are massively underperforming and although they must accept considerable criticism themselves, they are seemingly tired of the siege mentality Mourinho has employed with vigour this season.
From publically lamenting both the team doctor Eva Carneiro and referees to dropping his best player Eden Hazard and star striker Costa, Mourinho has played all his cards in order to get a reaction, however, none has been forthcoming.
The Portuguese’s methods are undoubtedly exacting and whilst his reliance on a small very select group of players to achieve success created real unity and momentum in the first half of last season, Chelsea now look exhausted both mentally and physically. De Bruyne was sold 18 months ago due to his reluctance to meet Mourinho’s standards and there is nobody waiting on the bench currently to change the course of game, due in part to the manager’s lack of faith in the academy graduates.
Fresh ideas and perspective would alleviate Chelsea’s indictment in the short-term; they currently sit 14th in the league table just two points above Bournemouth, and Abramovich will become increasingly tempted if both results and performances continue to flounder.
Regardless of this season, Mourinho is still Chelsea’s most successful manager and Abramovich should be admired for bucking convention to date and standing by his man.
However, sentiment and former success can only be used for so long and whilst Mourinho has effectively created the impression Chelsea are under siege in the past, he undoubtedly is now.