Enough of the ‘egg’ puns now, it’s all cracking me up. Oops sorry. That one crept in, but it’s certainly no laughing matter for Chelsea fans as the return of the Special One already appears to be slightly derailed. Mourinho is a top table player, and a high-stakes gambler. His record suggests that overwhelmingly, he gets it right. Along the way however, there have been a hiccup or two, and the Blues will be hoping that the present dip in the club’s fortunes is no more prolonged than that.
Chelsea kicked off the season in fairly bright, if not quite sparkling form. A home win against Hull was quickly followed by another against Aston Villa, before a very Mourinho-like efficient goalless draw at Old Trafford. After three games, a so far, so good report card would have ne appropriate. The club then jetted off to Prague for Europe’s equivalent of the Charity Shield against Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich, and succumbed on penalties after being literally five seconds away from securing a victory against the European Champions, including playing with ten men for much of the second half. Losing is never good, but there was merit in the performance against the team widely regarded as the best in Europe.
Since the international break however, both form and results have taken a downturn. Lacklustre defeat at Everton has been followed by their first defeat in a European tie on home soil for some ten years, and disappointingly to Basel, who with all due respect to the Swiss club, are hardly amongst Europe’s elite. The results are bad enough of course, but it is the nature of the tepid performances that is probably giving greater cause for concern. The games against Basel and Everton both took a similar track with Chelsea having much of the possession but appearing largely toothless at the sharp end of the formation. In both games, New signing Samuel Eto’o was deployed as the nominal front man, but with his penchant to drift to wide positions in search of space, there was hardly a cutting edge to the team’s attacks. Against Basel, Oscar’s goal just before the break was the Blues’ first shot on target in the first half. Given a share of possession of over 60% in the forty-five minutes, the return was pretty meagre.
In the summer, you could have asked any Chelsea fan which area of the team required strengthening and, as sure as eggs is eggs – sorry, again – they would have said a striker. With Torres and Ba comprising the front line at the end of last season, it would have been comforting to have the young Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku back in the fold to bolster what looked like a threadbare attack. Mourinho however decided to put all his eggs in one basket – OK, no more after this – and chase down the difficult purchase of Rooney from Manchester United. Whilst at various times it looked like there might be light at the end of that particular tunnel, in the end the possibility fell away, and a rushed purchase of Eto’o was the only card left to pay. With surprisingly Lukaku then loaned out to Everton for a season, the strike force again looked emaciated, and so far has proven to be so. Apart from Torres’ goal against Bayern, no striker has netted for the Blues this season. After the Basel game saw Eto’o lead the line for the second successive game, with Ba on the bench this time, and Torres nowhere in sight, what looked an obvious probably at the nd of last season, shows little sign of improving.
It’s probably too early to use the term crisis. Chelsea should still have enough about them to secure qualification from the group, but will be grateful that the draw has allowed then such latitude. Clubs in some of the other groups may not be so lucky after losing their first game at home, and they are also grouped on seven points from four games along with both of the Manchester clubs in the Premier League. There is also merit in the fact that the team he inherited was very much in transition with young players such as Oscar and Hazard evidence of the club’s desire to bring down the squad’s average age. There will be some maturing to do still, but the lack of a Sturridge, van Persie or even Dzeko or Giroud may well come back to haunt them.
A renaissance for Torres would be an ideal solution for the club, and if Mourniho could pull off that feat, it would rank amongst his greatest achievements, but with the Spaniard hardly featuring so far this season, and not even on the bench against Basel, it may be that his manager has given up on him already. The game on Saturday against Fulham has now assumed massive significance, should the blues fail to beat their neighbours, alarm bells will start to ring; even a narrow victory may not still the brewing worries. Mourinho needs to coax a reassuring performance from his team, to achieve a comfortable win. If he could conjure a goal from one of his strikers as well, that would be ideal.
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