By Shahan Ahmed
After Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to Southampton at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea had only collected eight points in eight Premier League matches and sat in 16th place out of 20. Trying to figure out what is right with the Blues is a tougher task than figuring out what is wrong these days, as the team is in disarray with manager Jose Mourinho losing his infallible status and even hearing boos at Stamford Bridge.
First of all, Chelsea’s defense is deplorable. Branislav Ivanovic has been the worst Chelsea player this season without much of an argument to the contrary, and that says a great deal because Chelsea has been nightmarishly bad across the board. The center-half pairings aren’t working, as Gary Cahill and Kurt Zouma turned out to be as ineffective as John Terry with Cahill. Throw in the fact that Cesar Azpilicueta is a right back playing left back and starting to show that he’s out of position, and Chelsea’s back line is in total shambles.
In eight league matches, Chelsea has only managed one clean sheet. That came against Arsenal in a controversial match where the Gunners ended with nine men.
With everything broken in the back, Mourinho should scrap the line and start fresh. To begin with, Azpilicueta should move to right back because that’s about the only part that fits for certain. Ivanovic can play as a center back, but the 31-year-old Serbian simply does not have the pace to match the Premier League’s top wingers and is not getting any faster.
At left back, Chelsea needs to try Baba Rahman. At this point, there is truly no excuse not to, but the roll of the dice does call into question why Mourinho was so quick to send Felipe Luis back to Atletico Madrid. The defense looks broken, though, so why not give Rahman a shot?
Between Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry and Zouma, the middle of the defense needs to find two regulars. Chelsea’s desperation to get John Stones over the summer makes a great deal more sense now, but that’s a moot point at this stage.
Chelsea’s midfield may be even more disappointing than its defense. Nemanja Matic, who started 35 of 38 Premier League matches a season ago, came on at halftime against Southampton and was promptly substituted less than a half hour later. Once the graceful guardian of the back four, Matic has not been able to quash opposition attacks, and his humiliating cameo appearance on Saturday spoke volumes of his current place in the manager’s mind.
Matic’s partner in the middle of the park, Cesc Fabregas, has been having a nightmare of a season. Fabregas, who faded over the latter half of the last campaign, has been a black hole. The Spaniard has started every league match for Chelsea, and he has only recorded one assist with no goals. A season ago, Fabregas finished as the top assist man in England with 18 when he provided the penultimate touch.
Fabregas needs to be benched. He’s clearly a quality player, but he’s been anything but reliable, consistent or helpful to Chelsea’s cause. Defensively, he’s never been known as a great ball winner, so using John Obi Mikel or even Zouma in the midfield may not be a bad play at this stage, as Chelsea needs to get desperate. Already, Mourinho started Ramires over Matic against Southampton, but that did not provide the desired result. Still, one cannot fault Mourinho for changing things because the current Chelsea side completely lacks inspiration.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of this young season is Eden Hazard. The PFA Player of the Year a season ago, Hazard has appeared in 12 matches for Chelsea across all competitions this season and has yet to score. Far too often, his dribbling moves end up going away from goal and don’t result in the attacking inspiration the Blues require from their No. 10.
The list could go on and on with names like Oscar, Diego Costa and Pedro coming into the discussion, but the point has been made. The Blues don’t look like champions. They look like the 16th best side in the Premier League, and they need massive changes and a lasting spark of inspiration.
About the only positive player during this dire stretch of play has been midfielder Willian. When Mourinho pulled the Brazilian on Saturday, he heard whistles and jeers from the crowd at Stamford Bridge. Yes, Chelsea is in such a horrendous position that Mourinho is being booed at home.
The Portuguese tactician, ultimately, is the biggest disappointment this season. Noted for having strong defenses, Chelsea has already shipped 17 goals in the league. Only Sunderland (18) has allowed more goals. Considered one the greatest man motivators, Mourinho has put out a side that consistently looks like it cannot be bothered.
“I think this is a crucial moment in the history of this club,” Mourinho said after Saturday’s loss. “You know why? Because if the club sacks me, they sack the best manager that this club have [sic]. And again, the message is the message of bad results, the manager is guilty.”
Clearly, Mourinho sees the ax above his head, but he bizarrely spent a bulk of his postmatch press conference blaming the match referee for not giving a penalty. Nevermind that Saido Mane should have been given a penalty earlier, Mourinho had a point to make, and he made it.
“If the club wants to sack me, they have to sack me because I’m not running away,” Mourinho said as he effectively stated that winning the Premier League title would not be happening this season.
Beyond the tactics and usual blaming of referees, Mourinho has fully jumped off the diving board with the row against medical doctor Eva Carneiro. He has embarrassed the club on the pitch and even more so off it. The chances of him making it through the season seems to be declining by the day, and Saturday’s press conference reinforced that fact.
So, what’s wrong with Chelsea this season? Everything.