Title-defenders Chelsea had pretty high expectations surrounding their team prior to this season. Based on last season’s domination, everybody expected them to win again, or at least put up a good fight in order to defend the title. However, the dismal start has sent worry waves across the Chelsea fans, and it is shocking to see the champions in this state.
It all started in the opening fixture of this season’s campaign when Swansea City showcased an unexpected fragility in the Blues’ defensive midfield and back line – and they haven’t stopped since.
Battered 3-0 by table-leaders Manchester City at the Etihad, distressed by West Brom in a 3-2 win at the Hawthorns and humiliated 2-1 at Stamford Bridge by Crystal Palace, Chelsea’s nightmarish season thus far has come to a temporary end, thanks to the international break. Jose Mourinho must have utilised this time-off to re-think the situation and possibly find a solution to this mess.
Following the international break, Chelsea will take on Everton this Saturday at Goodison Park – the beginning of a hectic and important round of fixtures that will see the Blues play seven games in 22 days.
The Blues will need to be ready to face a variety of opponents – Maccabi Tel Aviv and Porto in the Champions League, Arsenal, Newcastle United and Southampton in the Premier League and Walsall in the League Cup. Undoubtedly, each match will have a separate set of challenges.
At a very basic level, the first question that comes to mind is whether Mourinho will be looking to make any changes in the starting XI? In a classic Mourinho move, he recently expressed disappointment over the form of certain players, without taking up any names. But once the performances so far are scrutinised, it can be adjudged that the form of Branislav Ivanovic, Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas has only been mediocre.
Out of the three, Ivanovic – who has been greatly and frequently exposed for both pace and positioning – has played every minute of every game. Criticism was evoked following his performances against City, Swansea and West Brom. In fact, many supporters were hoping that Mourinho would rest him against Crystal Palace. In a very un-Mourinho-like move, he kept faith with the right-back. Maybe he thought Ivanovic would get back into the flow, but he didn’t.
It is no hidden fact that Mourinho wanted Everton’s John Stones at Chelsea this season, and the deal obviously did not go through. However, he did sign a very proficient young left-back in Baba Rahman. Ghana international Rahman, 21, was an unused substitute in Chelsea’s 2-1 home defeat to Palace, provides a viable solution to the Ivanovic problem.
Against Everton, Mourinho could let Rahman make his debut on the left side of defence and play Cesar Azpilicueta on his natural right side. Chelsea would then have sufficient pace on both flanks.
In the game with Palace, Mourinho did eventually pull off Ivanovic’s unsuccessful countryman Matic, replacing him with a Chelsea academy player – Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the 73rd minute. Loftus-Cheek did well enough to gain consideration for retaining his place in his side. Remember, this is the player his manager said was “ready,” towards the end of last season.
Meanwhile, Fabregas is continuing to be a shadow of the player he was. Evaded too easily in midfield, the Spaniard has failed to partner successfully with Matic in Chelsea’s engine room that has left the defence exposed. It’s not like Mourinho is out of options – he has enough players to tweak his formation so that Fabregas can be fielded forward or dropped from the team.
So what will Mourinho do? Will he make the necessary changes against Everton, or wait for comparatively less challenging opposition in the form of Maccabi or Walsall to experiment?
Unfortunately, the likelihood is Mourinho will persist with his experienced squad at Goodison Park. Then again, trust must be formed based on the current form and performances, and not on the good old tried and tested. He needs to shuffle the pack and make changes during the match against Everton because the team desperately needs a good victory, and another draw or loss will simply not do.