A beginning to a season such as ours, where bad results are not only racking up quickly, but are also occurring in a manner where in which there is no discernible problem, naturally makes one sceptical when potential ‘turning points’ appear to present themselves. Three wins in three separate competitions leading into yesterday’s game at least gave cause for optimism that a turnaround was possible, if not already underway. A disappointing draw to a Newcastle side in an abysmal run of form, which included one of the worst 45 minute displays Jose Mourinho said he has ever overseen, brings everything back miserably to square one. There was no embittered exaggeration or hysterical melodrama within the manager’s appraisal. We really were that bad.
I think the only people more sick and tired than we are, of Newcastle’s ability to improve their performances by a factor of around 37, every time they host Chelsea in the league, must be Newcastle fans themselves. It wasn’t as if their fans witnessed 11 lung bursting performances yesterday; and it’s not as if Steve McClaren devised an ingenious system to keep our best players at bay. They simply lined up in two narrow banks of four, with fast wingers and a target man, playing the ball forwards quickly when they had the chance – a system which at best can be described as old fashioned in its strategic minimalism. To have come so close to having been foiled is embarrassing. I hate this fixture.
There are no excuses either. The only three players missing from our best XI, were: Diego Costa, who isn’t exactly in great form at the moment; it’s possible the Spaniard may have been able to manufacture the kind of chance which Remy less antagonistic style precludes him from fashioning, but with so much attention paid to Costa this week, the odds the referee would’ve let him get away with anything were close to zero. The other two absences of note were of course, John Terry and Thibaut Courtois. Though I don’t think anybody has much reason to criticise the performances of Kurt Zouma or Asmir Begovic at the moment, with the former developing quickly and importantly and the latter quite possibly our most reliable current first team regular.
If there’s one positive to reflect upon over yesterday, it’s that with the addition of Pedro, adding that crucial single addition to the squad depth which was so obviously needed last season, there is finally some serious competition for starting positions in attack, which Ramires and Willian at least, have accepted in a promising manner. Both Brazilians, dropped after poor starts and the arrival of Pedro, were so impressive when they came on in the second half, with Ramires adding another excellent goal to his bizarrely inspiring collection, and Willian scoring his second free kick goal in as many starts (some may suggest both were lucky, but I think they were the kind of delivery with which any top defence and keeper would struggle to cope). Hopefully those two displays will now give Mourinho the incentive to drop more underperforming players, challenging them to respond in precisely this manner.
In situations like this, it’s very easy to be an armchair manager and point out faults with certain tactical decisions and selections, but ultimately there isn’t a single one of Mourinho’s decisions which isn’t valid or justifiable (yes, even the constant picking of Ivanovic). The blame now needs to be accepted and carried by the players. Bad luck and even bad results are tolerable (in most circumstances) but what isn’t reasonable for Chelsea fans to put up with is apathetic performances, the likes of which we’ve had to sit through already far too often this season. Newcastle were there for the taking; after Man City’s capitulation to Spurs, the gap was also there to be cut to five points and on both accounts we blew it. I don’t see any debates to be had that could be of any importance or interest right now about how the team can improve. Just work harder, lads. Work harder and play better. That’s my advice.