After hoisting the Barclay’s Premier League trophy last season, Chelsea have staggered out of the gates. The 2015-16 season began with two losses in cup competitions. On August 2, Chelsea lost to Arsenal in the Community Shield and on August 5, Chelsea lost to Fiorentina the International Champions Cup competition.
This poor form has seeped its way into the start of the Premier League season with two poor performances, a draw against Swansea City and a Manchester City drubbing.
In the season opener on Sunday, August 8, a 10-men Chelsea side (after goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was sent off in the 52nd minute for following Swansea City striker Bafetimbi Gomis) drew against The Swans on August 8. Although the the fluid, attack-minded team that dazzled in the first-half of last season was on display (instead of grind-down boring sit back and win 1-0 team) showed up for the match, The Blues only managed three shots on target. Willian outshone PFA Player of the Year Eden Hazard while Swansea’s Jefferson Montero constantly wreaked havoc against Branislav Ivanovic.
The Blues then faced title contenders Manchester City this past weekend on Sunday, August 16 at The Etihad and laid a duck. City ran rampant against The Blues from the starting whistle, Sergio Aguero nearly scored 40 seconds, to the final whistle. Pellegrini’s side outplayed Mourinho’s bossing the midfield while bringing wave upon wave of pressure against the porous Chelsea defense. Aguero had central defenders Gary Cahill and John Terry’s head on a constant swivel, while City’s new signing Raheem Sterling and left back Aleksandar Kolarov tormented Branislav Ivanovic. Nemanja Matic battled reasonably well against City’s midfield, but was always left exposed due to the lack of pace and interest by his midfield partner Cesc Fabregas. Terry was subbed at the start of the second half for ‘tactical reasons’ as Mourinho wanted the faster and younger Kurt Zouma to handle the pace of Aguero and Ivanovic also should have been subbed for, but The Blues don’t have many other defensive options.
Mourinho may have called Man City’s win ‘completely fake’, but there are very real problems at Chelsea:
- Once thought of as the best right-back in the league, Ivanovic has been made into marionette controlled by attacking left-wingers. His lack of pace has become fully evident in the first two games of the season as he was not able to keep up with small speedy wingers. Is it time to convert him into a central defender, where he plays for his country?
- Although John Terry was never the fastest of central-defenders, his positionality and understanding of the game have always made him one of the best defenders in the world. Terry had a transformative season last season but is now more than just one-step behind defenders. His instincts aren’t sharp and his position as a defensive stalwart may be over.
- Cesc Fabregas had an amazing last season distributing from deep and providing some coverage in front of Chelsea’s back four, but his pace has also always been in question. He is slow to react and often commits fouls in the defensive third to make up for this lack of pace. Can he continue to play in a 4-2-3-1 formation as a holding midfielder? Or would he be better off splitting duty with Oscar under a striker allowing the likes of Ramires and others to provide cover and make penetrating runs?
The aforementioned Kurt Zouma recently mentioned that he is happy to fill in at left-back as Chelsea lack defensive reinforcements and he may need to either play left- or right-back quite soon. Chelsea lost Felipe Luis to Atletico Madrid and have been unable to agree a deal for Everton centre-back John Stones, leaving them with very few options in the near future. To put a temporary stop gap on the team’s leaky defense, Mourinho needs to make a bold statement. Building on his benching of John Terry against City this weekend, Mourinho must explain to Terry that he is no longer an every game starter and must mentor young defenders such as Zouma and Cahill. He must handle the situation better than his recent spat with Chelsea’s physio Eva Carneiro and use this as an opportunity to build for the future.
Against West Brom on Sunday, August 23, Mourinho should start Zouma at right-back, Cahill and Ivanovic as central defenders and keep Cesar Azpilicueta as right-back. The Blues look stagnant and this change could spark some solidity.