Time for Mourinho to prove he's still special as problems mount for Chelsea

Posted by Mark Worrall



Chelsea's Jekyll-and-Hyde season shows no sign of abating following another disappointing defeat on the road that has once again dented the London club's Premier League title aspirations. This time it was the turn of struggling Stoke City to give Jose Mourinho and his men the blues. The Potters' spirited 90-minute performance, which resulted in a 3-2 victory for the home side, left the Chelsea manager lamenting his team's inability to score goals.

"After half an hour we should have been winning 3-0 or 4-0 and we weren't," said Mourinho in his postmatch conference. "When you play so well and it's so easy, you find spaces and the three players behind the striker, [Eden] Hazard, [Juan] Mata and [Andre] Schurrle, are playing so well and creating so much, you have to kill the game. Normally you kill the game but we didn't."

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The Portuguese is a master at stating the obvious. "I have to say it was like Sunderland, with the three players behind the striker playing very, very well, but we didn't score enough goals. On top of that we made defensive mistakes and conceded. If you don't score a lot of goals but you don't make defensive mistakes you can win with just one goal."

Football is a simple game, Jose; supporters know the team that scores the most goals wins. At Sunderland on Wednesday night, the Black Cats netted three goals, but the Blues scored four. At Stoke on Saturday the Potters netted three times, but Chelsea only twice.

At present, Mourinho and the wider world seem preoccupied with Chelsea's three goal-shy strikers: Fernando Torres, Demba Ba and Samuel Eto'o. Against Stoke, Mourinho played all three at various stages of the game with no end product. When asked how he could get his strikers to score, the Blues boss somewhat worryingly replied: "I don't know." As the media line of questioning persisted, he was then asked whether his strikers were good enough. "They are players trying to give everything to the team, they are working hard and fighting hard. I can't criticise them."

Admirable indeed to see a manager defending his players in public, though in private it's hard to believe that Mourinho would be quite as relaxed. Chelsea's three strikers have scored four league goals between them so far this season. Meanwhile, a certain hulking Belgian loan star by the name of Romelu Lukaku has been rippling the net for fun wearing an Everton shirt. Whatever the real story may be regarding Mourinho's decision to send Lukaku to Goodison Park, the fact is he made the decision and the youngster has already scored eight times in the league for the Toffees, terrorizing opposition defences along the way.

Fortunately, Chelsea's midfield maestros are able to dazzle on their day with Hazard the current pick of the crop and playing, as Mourinho explained, with the right approach -- his approach. He said: "You can see the mentality is changing, you can see that with the way Hazard is playing; he isn't dribbling from left to right or right to left anymore, he is attacking defenders, trying to score and trying to give the last ball. He's always in the game, you can say on Wednesday he was better, but not much better. He was fantastic again, the way he was changing speed with people trying to tackle him from behind, but we have to kill opponents when they are there to be killed."

Attacking, or "killing" as Jose refers to it, is one thing; defence another. Such is the focus on the bluntness of the Blues' strike force that the deficiencies of an increasingly porous back line, and the defensive midfield there to supposedly to shield them, are persistently overlooked. So far this season, Chelsea have conceded 17 league goals in 15 games, already two more than in the whole of the 2004-05 season -- Mourinho's first at the club.

On Saturday, sounding anything but "special," he was asked what the difference was between his successful first spell in charge at Stamford Bridge and now. "A few very important differences," he stated, somewhat vaguely, before phlegmatically adding: "But I have the squad I have and I have to try to get the best out of them."

At the start of the season, Chelsea's back line looked compact and robust. Ashley Cole at left-back, Branislav Ivanovic at right-back and John Terry paired with Gary Cahill in central defence. Unfortunately, things started going awry for Mourinho, firstly when David Luiz was brought into the side at the expense of Cahill, and subsequently when Cole was deemed to be out of form and then picked up an injury. In spite of Cole's return to fitness, the Blues manager has persisted playing Cesar Azpilicueta out of position at left-back when perhaps he might have played him on the right in place of Ivanovic, who has turned in some pedestrian performances of late.

A stable back four that play together week in and week out in their right positions has always formed the basis for teams to be successful -- Mourinho knows this. It's been a part of his blueprint in the past, yet now there is a Claudio Ranieri-esque tinkering element to his team selection that continues to beg more questions than it provides answers.

Right now, Jose Mourinho seems to be very adept at diagnosing the problems with his team, but browbeaten when it comes to remedying them. His nonchalant, shoulder-shrugging "we are in trouble" comment made to the media on Saturday will not breed confidence with those Chelsea supporters who welcomed him back to Stamford Bridge as the returning messiah.

If the Blues continue to struggle for consistency of form many will begin to wonder whether Mourinho really is that "special" anymore.

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