Who is to Blame for Chelsea's Disastrous Start?
By now, even the most casual football fan knows about Chelsea’s fall from title winners to near relegation battlers. The same team that dominated the Premier League last season, losing just 3 games and coasting to the title, has in just a few months fallen to near the bottom of the division.
The fact that Chelsea’s main 11 remains largely unchanged makes the decline in form all the more head scratching. How could 11 players who played so perfectly together in May suddenly fall apart in August?
With so many questions about how this could have all happened, it has been easy for Chelsea fans and pundits to single out individuals. Certain players have not been up to standard, causing their teammates to fail as well.
Jose Mourinho has been the most popular target of criticism. His repeated meltdowns, both on and off the field, build an atmosphere of entitlement and selfishness around the team. Players and fans get the sense that it isn’t their fault for the results: it’s the referee’s, or the FA’s, or God’s.
Mourinho’s media relations have been poor as well. Every interview is a new gold mine for television networks. Either he pouts and “has nothing to say,” or blasts about how he is the best manager for Chelsea, and can’t be fired, or calls referees “weak and naïve.”
Even worse was the Eva Carneiro row. Mourinho blasted his own team’s physios in a post-match interview, for running on the field to tend to Hazard when a quick free kick could have been taken.
Carneiro took poorly to this, and after both she and fellow physio John Fearn were suspended, she quit. She has since filed a lawsuit against the FA, Chelsea and Mourinho personally.
The club has never fully emerged from her shadow. Mourinho’s mindless explosion made the club seem like an anti-woman discriminator, and Jose looked like a fool.
It is worth noting that Jose has always been like this. He purposely turns media attention on himself, both because he is egotistical and because he seeks to deflect criticism from his players. The more the media focuses on Jose, the less they focus on Matic, or Hazard, or Fabregas, or Ivanovic, or really any current Chelsea player.
At the same time, though, his media strategy can be destructive. It creates a bad vibe around the team, one of constant scandal and uproar. There is no settlement, no calm time to recover and reset.
Beyond Jose’s antics, his tactics have been seemingly poor as well. His reluctance to switch from the 4-2-3-1 formation is somewhat worrying. While it was a brilliant change, allowing all of Chelsea’s players to shine, it might not be working anymore. More importantly, teams might be figuring it out.
A change might be good for the squad. It might blow a little fresh air into how the team plays. The attack has been stale for much of the year, and switching to a wider midfield might allow more space for Diego Costa and Eden Hazard to make their killer runs.
So Jose must shoulder some blame for his antics and tactics. But at the same time, he can only work with what is in front of him at the moment. And that isn’t a lot.
Costa has been woefully poor this season, picking up just 3 goals in 15 appearances. His runs are weak, and when he gets the ball his touch is always off. Costa admitted to coming to preseason training overweight, and it is clear he isn’t lying.
Hazard was Premier League Player of the Season just months ago, but would now struggle to get into West Brom’s side. His dribbling and runs, two of his most killer attributes, have dropped off precipitously. He has not been creating shots, or taking shots, at all, and his play on the wing and the center has been awful. On top of that, the defensive side of his game is lackluster, leaving spaces from which goals are created numerous times.
Oscar and Cesc Fabregas can both be counted on the list of underperformers as well. Neither has played the no. 10 role well, failing to pick out the right passes. They don’t create space, and neither has played to the level defensively expected of them, Fabregas more so than Oscar.
John Terry, Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic and Kurt Zouma all look awful as well. The backline has been pulled apart consistently, almost always on the counter. While some singled out Ivanovic early in the season for failing to do his part, and thus causing the whole back line problems it has since become clear that the blame is evenly shared. Only Cesar Azpilicueta can truly say that he has played at the levels which Jose will want.
Nemanja Matic is the most worrying decline. In the past season and a half, Matic was the most dominant Premier League midfielder. He controlled the midfield, cutting off counter attacks and starting Chelsea attacks. He brilliantly covered Chelsea’s back line, filling in whenever Terry or Cahill was out of position.
But this season, he has been off his games. Teams see that he is often isolated, and attack him whenever Fabregas, his usual partner in the pivot, wanders off. Matic has been able to do little to hold back the waves of attackers coming at the Chelsea box.
As the lynchpin of the team, he must shoulder the most blame of any player. The attack will never start to roar on all engines, and the defense will never shore up, as long as he stays in poor form.
But Matic cannot be expected to pick up his form alone. He is part of a connected and interdependent team. While he is the most important, he is not the only player.
That brings me to the final point: no single person bares the blame for Chelsea’s season. Yes, Jose has been immature and foolish tactically. Yes, Matic has been poor. Yes, Hazard hasn’t carried the offense. Yes, the backline looks like a Championship side.
In the end, none of these people, or groups, carries the blame for the poor form. The team, as a whole, does. It is time for the club to step up and accept collective responsibility for the disaster that is this season.
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