Chelsea lost to Stoke City at Britania Stadium 1-0 this past Saturday, running their losing streak (in the Premier League) to 3 straight, and The Blues have now established a new record for a defending champion in the modern Premier League era, with 7 losses out of their first 12 games. This is historically bad run have play has left Chelsea with 11 points and in 16th place (just three points above the dreaded relegation zone). While earlier in the season, this could have been considered some poor luck, now Chelsea are in serious trouble, with the Top 4 (and Champions League Football) slipping from their grasp.
The question is: what happened? Chelsea looked dominant in winning the Premier League last year, and now appear completely out of sorts...well, here are a few thoughts:
Ineffective Transfer Window
Chelsea largely stood still during the summer transfer window, while most of the other teams in the league (including Chelsea's main rivals) made themselves better. Looking at the business Chelsea did in the transfer window, most of the notable movement was out of the team, including long-time goalkeeper (and best goalkeeper in Chelsea History) Peter Cech to a major competitor for the league, Arsenal. This, to me, was insane: while there is nothing wrong with Begovic or Courtois at the back for The Blues, allowing your best goalkeeper to go to a team who could very easily threaten you for the league (and are indeed fighting at the top), who have historically had goalkeeping issues is madness.
Madness that had an immediate effect, with Arsenal snagging the 2015 FA Community Shield from Chelsea in the final 1-0. The only reason this is...plausible, is the idea that Courtois was unhappy not being the clear number one, and this was a move to ensure the...future..but...
Who did Chelsea bring in?
Radamel Falcao, a striker who is still getting chances in England, for some reason, despite being absolutely awful for Manchester United last season, and continually loaned out by his club Monaco--a team who are 7th in the French League and have half the goal total of the league leaders. Look, I get that Falcao was pretty great for a while, and has generally been good for his country, but come on.
Asmir Begovic, the goalkeeping backup for regular number 1 Courtois, signed out of Stoke City. Nothing wrong here, but perhaps an unnecessary move, considering Cech is still (clearly) capable of making a team better, which Chelsea desperately need...especially with Courtois out with a knee injury for 3 months, thrusting Begovic into the starters' role.
Baba Rahman, a left back who, for 21.7 million pounds, has made 3 appearances. Looks like a good player, but clearly is not 'too slow' enough to play in defense.
Pedro, from Barcelona (for less money than Rahman) looks to be a good signing. He's pacey, he has an eye for goal, and has experience...if he can stay healthy, and find a consistent place in the side, he looks to be the best signing (at least for the short term)...but that said, he is, at the moment, a 1 goal forward for a team struggling to win games.
Kenedy? A Brasilian for the future...
There's nothing there that inspires, and with every team around Chelsea getting better, it was up to the players who, again, won the league handily, to preform again.
Chunks of this Chelsea team look like shadows of their former selves; while an occasional dip in from is a completely acceptable fact of life in professional sports, Chelsea seemingly have angered some sort of voodoo shaman as the list of under performing players is a yard long, including pretty much every midfielder not named Willian. Cesc Fabregas looks lost, Matic does not look like he has seen a football before on some plays, even the streaky, but often reliable Oscar has looked a pale reflection of himself.
Perhaps most notably, Hazard, who Jose Mourinho called the '3rd best player in the world', giving him completely unrealistic expectations going into this season...expectations which Hazard has failed to live up to by any stretch of imagination, has been the most conspicuously absent in many of these early games. As a Liverpool fan, it reminded me of the time that Brendan Rodgers called Joe Allen the 'Welsh Xavi', thus setting up Allen to fail regardless of how good he actually was. Hazard can be a tremendous player when on form, however he is also inconsistent, and, as it looks this season, can pull himself into a rut, and stay there if things are not going his way.
This is obviously a problem that, one would expect, would need to be fixed by the Manager, as these are all players who have shown they are capable (they just needed to get pulled together and motivated).
'The Special One' is looking anything but this season. His personality and energy has (twice) made the Premier League more entertaining, and his teams have always been spectacular defensively (if not a little dull on occasion to watch). A larger-than-life coach can be a wonderful to have when things are going well, as they often take a lot of the media pressure and spotlight themselves, allowing the players to get to work...however, when the team isn't doing well...it becomes something of a circus. Stadium bans, fines, lawsuits; Mourinho is finding himself to be on the darker side of 'center-of-attention' this year, and that does not help the team at all. Every rumored 'loss of the dressing room', every statement, tweet, photo now bears a conspiracy-laden meaning (to the always calm and rational internet public) and with each loss, the scrutiny on the team, and Jose Mourinho's job (again, having won the league last year) becomes more intense.
Tactically, Chelsea do not appear to be a team, rather a group of individuals running around together in snappy matching outfits; while the game this weekend against Stoke City had Chelsea looking better, there was still ultimately a disconnect between the different layers of players.
It makes you wonder if the dressing room hasn't shifted away from JM...or if perhaps the media spotlight endlessly being on the coach, instead of on the players has worn thin for some of the stars; no one outside of that room knows, but the fact remains, the team is not performing even close to their potential, particularly at what is Mourinho's calling card: defending.
Chelsea have conceded 23 goals this season, which is the third most in the Premier League with only Bournemouth and Sunderland conceding more (and being two of the 4 teams below Chelsea in the league table). To put this into perspective, we are presently 12 games into the season, whereas last year, in all 38 games, Chelsea allowed 32 goals. Total.
The defense has essentially stayed the same, despite Chelsea's attempts to pull John Stones from Everton during the transfer window (I am ignoring Rahman and Djilobodji's signing as they are not being played) and this is not seeming to be a mistake. John Terry and Gary Cahill at the heart of the defense look to have both lost a step, and are consistently being hit with pace-y forwards and strikers who are finding themselves able to push past them into goal scoring opportunities. Perhaps this is an age problem, perhaps a fitness issue, but I wonder if it is not a symptom of just how disjointed the play is in front of the back four, leaving players who are more known for their strength than their speed, out on a limb and forced to deal with a speed they are no longer as able to defend as they once were.
That said, going through the goals against highlights, one does see several mistakes across the back costing Chelsea again and again.
What can be done?
Well, only the team themselves know whether or not Mourinho has lost the room, and that is why the team is stumbling. The problem with firing Mourinho is...I do not know that there is a better coach available who would want the job (keeping in mind that Carlo Ancelotti has history with the club and the owner that did not...end...well). For all of his faults, that become quite glaring when the team is losing games, Mourinho is a world-class manager and very hard to replace.
When watching the Stoke City loss, it appeared that Hazard was beginning to look more himself, and while there could have been a penalty given on the Remy play in the box (which could have pulled Chelsea level), it was another game that slipped way from Chelsea despite appearing to be the better team (as opposed to the Liverpool game, where despite an early goal, Chelsea wilted under the still-not-fully in place gegenpressing).
Personally, I hope Mourinho gets a chance to pull this team out of its' doldrums, as they are too talented to be 16th in the Premier League, and JM is too good of a Manager to be fired with the expectation to finding someone better (Brendan Rodgers? Tim Sherwood? Carlo Ancelotti? Me in FIFA?). Perhaps he just needs to get his head down for a while, stop yelling about conspiracies and complaining about calls, and get this team re-organized and focused at working one game at a time to get to the window, and then push and pull some players around to get an actual shape in their play again.
Let me know what you think Chelsea needs to do in the comments below or on Twitter.