Whilst terrible results are always difficult to take, for any club supporter, more often than not there will be visible causes of such shocking form that make tough times more bearable, for the simple reason that there will be understandable and even tangible solutions to poor performances. Where there is conflict behind the scenes, for instance, the resolution of backstage tensions can usually be assumed to fix on-field problems; bad luck can be dismissed; poor (occasional) individual performances can be forgiven; even being beaten by good teams playing well on the day can be stomached; but when a club finds itself, in the type situation which Chelsea currently faces, where everybody is playing inexplicably shit, it’s makes it rather difficult to know how to feel.
I think it’s strange that despite the severity of our position and the distance which we’ve fallen, there seems to be a calm widespread acceptance of our failures thus far, which is to say that nobody seems overly surprised. It’s a shame to have to be at all revisionist about a campaign as incredible as last season’s, but in hindsight, it might be fair to say that signs of our current struggles have been evident for some time. Perhaps our conservative change in approach to the final third of last season was more symptomatic of the problems we’re now dealing with, than it was the result of considered strategising.
Of course, the worst thing about having no obvious answers to explain such a rapid decline into mediocrity is that it necessarily leads you into making unpleasant deductions about the fitness, the motivation and the professionalism of the squad. Whether it’s the case that the team simply wasn’t prepared properly in pre-season, whether there is still tiredness or fatigue remaining from last season or whether without the likes of experienced winners as Petr Cech and Didier Drogba, collective motivation to compete has fallen. Whatever the problem is it certainly reflects very poorly on this group.
The one explanation I don’t like and don’t think is particularly useful or fair in the slightest is to pin inordinate amounts of blame onto individual players. Branislav Ivanovic has been awful in these first five games, yet the amount of disdain being aimed at the Serbian right now is appalling. That he continues to be used in a capacity where he is often our sole source of width on the right hand side, despite all his limitations, I think the expectations placed on him in that role are ludicrous and it’s no wonder rival teams are targeting him so much. Meanwhile, Eden Hazard, Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa (the four pillars of our title winning offence) have been very nearly just as bad themselves; Willian too has been rightly dropped. Really, the only two players who can claim to have done well so far are the new signings, Pedro and Asmir Begovic; the rest have been horribly disappointing.
Naturally, such a bad start casts an incredibly gloomy outlook over the rest of the league season – already it seems the next eight months are to be spent catching up with teams whose level we should be nowhere near. Rather than stumble through game weeks however, I think there are five clear objectives that the club should have at the forefront of its ambitions, in order to make this a productive campaign, and as importantly, an interesting one as well…
The first objective has to be to really see what the young players, currently on the fringes of the squad can achieve, and how much they can contribute. With little to compete for in the league and with no one currently demanding a first team place, Mourinho would be crazy not to give substantial game time to the likes of Kenedy, Traore, Rahman and Loftus-Cheek. At the worst we may discover they aren’t good enough, to very little consequence, or they may improve massively and add directly to the squad in a way which may save us a huge outlay next summer.
The second aim should be to weed out the chaff in the squad, and finally look to get rid of the players who have added an insufficient amount to the team in recent years. The likes of Ramires, Mikel Obi and Cahill have all performed well in the past, though generally, throughout their Chelsea careers, they have profited from the superior talents and contributions of their teammates. I think the club should look to be ruthless with any squad players who fail to help the team materially this season.
Obviously, we should also already be looking to make a top priority out of cup competitions. The pedigree of this squad and the manager of winning one off games, even in the most challenging of circumstances is well proven. We have as good knowledge as any club that poor league seasons don’t have to equate to trophyless campaigns.
Most importantly, Jose and the club also need to take this chance to do what they did in their first season, and to closely and perfectly identify what the club needs in order to compete once again, and then pursue their targets next summer with ruthlessness and ambition. The importance of the quality of our preparation last summer only becomes more apparent with time. After watching Man City go out and sign England’s best prospect, Spain’s best centre half from last season and arguably the best young playmaker in the world, our respective efforts look pitiful.
Finally, I think everybody surrounding the club, from the owner, to the staff, to the players and the fans should look to grasp this opportunity to demonstrate their seriousness and their commitment to the ideas and the methods which delivered such wonderful success only a few months ago. Despite continued verbal commitments to the long-term at Chelsea, Mourinho’s reputation as a short term coach will exist until he comes through a period like this, with the full support of his board and fan base. It would be nice for the rest of the country to take his loyalty as seriously as we already have done for a long time.
We already know for certain these players have what it takes to get through a league season, leading from the front, but now we’ll get to see which of them has got the real strength of character and the fortitude to turn our season around. The door is wide open for any prospective future leaders to establish themselves. So let’s not lose any enthusiasm just yet. With regards to the long term success of the club, and with these five objectives in mind, the events of this season should be fascinating to watch unfold as well as being of potentially huge consequence. So chins up comrades– and enjoy tonight’s game…