November nightmares haunt Chelsea after Newcastle defeat

Posted by Phil Lythell

After the Chelsea juggernaut appeared to be moving through the gears during a perfect October, Chelsea have found their momentum checked after a shuddering defeat to Newcastle in their first fixture in November.

- Worrall: Mourinho gets the blues
- Heneage: Three things: Newcastle-Chelsea
- Report: Newcastle 2-0 Chelsea

The 11th month of the year has perplexingly become Chelsea's Achilles' heel, scuppering the hopes of title challenges, European ambitions and fatally undermining the tenure of more than one manager. This time last year Chelsea took just one point from November while also losing crucial Champions League fixtures which cost Roberto Di Matteo his job. Two seasons earlier, the rot began to set in at the same time with an away defeat to Liverpool and a damaging 3-0 home reverse to Sunderland, of all teams. In the 2008-09 campaign, it was November that saw Luiz Felipe Scolari's reign begin to unravel after losing to Arsenal at Stamford Bridge and being comprehensively beaten in the Champions League at AS Roma. Whether the analysis is arbitrary or coincidental, what is clear is that November has not been kind to Chelsea in recent years

The disappointing result at St James' Park on Saturday suggests that the jinx has struck once again, though with Jose Mourinho at the helm there is confidence that the result will remain a blip rather than being symptomatic of something more terminal. Nevertheless, the manner of defeat will concern Mourinho given that the performance did not reflect the manager's ethos of high work rate and the "collective soul" that he spoke of before the game.

Up until the last 20 minutes, the team lacked intensity and desire. Lethargy cannot be offered up as an excuse despite the congested fixture list, not least because only two of the starting 11 began the Capital One Cup triumph at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday. Newcastle, by contrast, played their cup tie 24 hours later and contested extra time against Manchester City with eight of their players starting both matches.

Rather than play at a tempo becoming of a team that was on a six-match winning run, the Blues were content to approach the game at a walking pace, allowing the Magpies to settle into a comfortable defensive shape that their manager, Alan Pardew, had obviously been drilling into them over the previous few days. The Chelsea players appeared to be expecting the result to come to them rather than striving for it themselves. Patience can be a virtue, especially in football, as those on the field trust their collective patterns of play and their individual skill to be able to turn a game in a moment, though for that to be successful there have to be periodic injections of urgency. That attitude was adopted only once Newcastle had already taken the lead and that is simply not acceptable.

The Blues coasted through a first half in which they really should have taken the upper hand. With long periods in possession of the football, the Blues rarely did anything with it as the most dangerous chances came from set pieces. With an array of creative talent on show, the visiting fans were entitled to expect a little more flair in proceedings, though apart from Eden Hazard there was precious little in the way of penetration. It would be easy to attribute the situation to disciplined defending by Newcastle and that was certainly a factor, but the frustration comes from the fact Chelsea allowed opportunities to pass them by.

Too often a second touch was taken when just one was needed, or the wrong option was chosen when another teammate had found some space only to be ignored. There were several culprits, but it was Ramires, Frank Lampard and -- surprisingly -- Oscar who were most guilty of failing to pick the right pass. Indeed, it was the latter Brazilian's poorest performance of the season, providing almost no impact on the game despite his preeminence in the team thus far in this campaign. He was not alone in putting in a sub-standard display, however. In fact, it would be quicker to name those who did not underwhelm -- Hazard, Petr Cech and John Terry being the only ones to escape without censure

It is hard to explain the chasm between the team displays against Manchester City and Arsenal with the one on Tyneside. The only explanation -- even if it does appear facile -- is complacency, a charge rarely leveled at a Mourinho team. Perhaps some of the players began to believe the hype, though it seems unfathomable that the manager would allow such a mindset to take hold.

Even so, Mourinho must also take his share of the blame for allowing the team to take the field with so little enthusiasm for the fight. With the Portuguese's methodology and track record well known, one can expect that he will not let such an attitude become a permanent fixture. Chelsea's squad is deep enough to allow him to teach some of his charges a lesson by leaving them out of the first team, while still picking a side that can win important matches. It would be a major surprise if some of those on the fringes did not start the match against Schalke on Wednesday.

For all the disappointment at such an insipid showing from Chelsea, it should not start the alarm bells ringing just yet. In Mourinho, the Blues have a manager who knows how to motivate and galvanise a squad, and the amount of quality within it is such that a vast improvement can be expected almost instantly. For the moment, the result appears to just be an aberration, however, by the end of November it will become clearer whether that is actually the case or if it is something more worrying.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell


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